College is a critical time for discovering who you are. For some, the conflict between an individual’s inner desire and society’s expectations often leads to catastrophic results. Julie Ducournau explores the sexual awakening of a young girl and the consequences in her debut feature, Raw. Justine, played by Garance Marilier, is a vegetarian who suddenly developed a craving for human flesh after getting a taste of rabbit kidneys during a hazing ritual. The film does not shy away from capturing a private waxing session between sisters, an intimate sex scene between a virgin and a gay man, and the nature of cannibalism, among others.
Interestingly, Justine’s realization of her cannibalistic tendencies occurs at the same time she began embracing her sexuality. She was initially ashamed of herself for craving meat, which was evident when she stole from the cafeteria or when her friend had to take her to a gas station. Similarly, she was hesitant to wear her sister’s stylish dress to a party because she didn’t feel like herself. Her evolution becomes much more apparent in the succeeding visually striking scenes. She dresses up and grinds in front of a mirror, then becomes more fervent when she lost her virginity, causing her to bite her arm for restraint. Her true identity began to surface, despite the painful process revealed as she contorts under her bed covers and the increasing judgements from people around her. As an audience, you’re not sure whether to root for her self-discovery or cringe at her impulsive actions. There’s a certain estrangement that arises between you and the character because of the connotations of eating human flesh. Much like cannibalism, a woman’s sexuality is taboo in the society. Ducournau succeeds in portraying the sexual needs of young girls as something that should be fulfilled just as much as boys do through the experiences of Justine.
On the road to sexual awakening, Justine encounters two opposing forces that attempt to control her actions. Her mother prevents her from discovering her true identity by raising her as a vegetarian. On the hand, her sister pressures her to act on her nature by tempting her to eat the remains of those who suffered a car accident and taunting her at the morgue. It is interesting to note how they are both women, perhaps signifying the irony of other women controlling a woman’s actions in society. For instance, some women are quick to judge the mistress in a relationship, claiming that she seduced a married man, without stopping to think about the actions of the man who cheated on his wife. In Raw, Justine defies her mother and sister in the hopes of finding a different life on her own. She gradually accepts her identity as a cannibal contrary to her mother’s wishes and at the same time, she now has the freedom to control her desires unlike her sister who went too far and ended up in prison.
One question remains at the end of the film: How did the women in Justine’s family become cannibals? The cause was not disclosed in the film, as in counter-cinema. Raw focuses on the events that happened to Justine, rather than providing a reason and a resolution to the problem. By using this technique, Ducournau directs the attention of the audience to the human condition. There’s a heavy emphasis on the woman’s body and coming to terms with it. Sexuality isn’t good or bad; it just is. With countless scenes that are painful to watch, Raw succeeds in disturbing the audience and pushing them to reflect on cannibalism, sexuality, and womanhood.