Shedding the Broken Present: Julia Ducourneau’s "Titane"

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The Palme d'Or winning "Titane" is a physical provocation that challenges the viewer to consider the path ahead.

By Anthony Hawley

There was a time when I wasn’t a cyborg. But it’s been so long now I can’t remember. 

In 1993, the same year Bill Clinton was sworn in as president, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was released. I was in the backseat of a two-door Ford escort carrying five people across the night too fast on too wet roads blanketed with even wetter leaves when the little machine ran head-on into a telephone pole. We were all pulverized. I was the worst—a fractured skull shattered like an eggshell upon impact. I broke it with my own knuckles trying to brace myself as we collided. 

I recall that there was yelling, some wailing, as our bodies spilled out of the car. I recall rolling on the ground in the mud, pressing my hands against the pounding in my forehead. I recall fire trucks, ambulances, being strapped to a board, the emergency room. I recall waking up after surgery a week later when they had made a cut from one ear to the other to place titanium strips inside my head—together these formed a Roman numeral IX or XI. I recall, in part, drifting in and out of wakefulness post-op and the paranoia experienced—does it work? Do I work? Am I on? Think Robocop (1987), when the lab finishes assembly and they power him up for the first time, testing out his vision and basic functionality; the flickering, the foggy apprehension. 

But nothing is as clear in my memory as visiting the hospital a second time, two weeks after surgery, post-recovery, when the nurse and doctor methodically extracted thirty-three industrial staples that were holding my head together. The process of removing the staples from my head had a very particular speed and pressure that still gives me a very clear sense of the density of human flesh, like pulling metal tomato planters out of healthy earth, or like extracting meaty fasteners out from wall-to-wall carpet and the foam beneath. 
While the sensations of my experience are something I can conjure up on demand, no film, song, image or piece of art has so evoked the physical phantoms of this moment as Julia Ducourneau’s Palme d’Or winning Titane.

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