I saw a movie on Thursday, and it made me crazy.
The movie was Julia Ducournau’s Raw. It’s about a young veterinary student who becomes a cannibal. It’s the best new film I’ve seen twenty years.
I’m going to skip the traditional accolades here. There are too many writers who are far better at describing why the film is great than I would be.
And reviewing is not what I do on this blog. I will sometimes point you toward things I like, but mostly it’s a bizarre show and tell with a bit of futurism.
So I will instead describe my reaction to Raw, and that will serve as my review.
It will also demonstrate how crazy I am when it comes to good storytelling.
Or just how crazy I am.
First, you should know something about me: I love movies. I love them enough to have spent a significant portion of my life trying to write them. Every time I walk into a theater (a lot), I’m hoping the artists behind the film will truly transport me to another place/time/experience.
It rarely happens. That’s OK; it’s a damn hard thing to do. And I can have a perfectly fun time watching a movie even if it doesn’t pull my brain out my skull and stomp on it.
But I’m always hoping.
I love all good storytelling, but when I see the work of a writer-director at the height of her powers—in this case, higher than most anyone’s powers—it destroys me. Have you ever driven to another city to see your favorite band play? Or your favorite team? You do this because it lights you up inside. That’s film for me.
Consider also (and if you read this blog, you already know) that I love the dark, the macabre, the exploration of the strange.
So when I read that a French film involving cannibalism was getting wild reviews and winning prizes at every film festival, I knew I had to go see it. Atlanta’s Midtown Art theater picked it up, and I made plans to go on the last night of its run here.
I expected to enjoy it. Maybe even love it. I had no idea.
Ok, are you ready for my crazy? Remember what I said about myself and film, and be kind with your judgment.
My friend and I arrive at the theater. Tickets, find seats, lights down, commercials, previews, blah, the movie starts.
Within the first ten minutes, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite films, and I haven’t added anything to that list in at least ten years.
By midpoint in the film, I got sad because I realized I could never watch it again for the first time.
Yeah. I’m not kidding. I actually had this thought. (remember what I said about judgment, please)
Before it was over, I was furious at myself for waiting until the last night of the film’s run to see it.
I felt dizzy walking out of the theater. Let me be clear: I don’t mean metaphorically dizzy. I don’t mean “dizzy with the possibilities of cinema.” I mean literally dizzy.
Ok, a little hyperbole there. I wasn’t about to fall over. But I do recall feeling like I couldn’t focus on anything around me.
Over the course of the weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I searched online to find the next closest showing to Atlanta. The answer: Knoxville, a three-hour drive away.
If it were physically possible to drive out of Atlanta anymore, I would have made the trip. But with traffic, the only way to get out of this city is by aircraft or horseback, and I have neither.
I could write for hours on this movie, but I’ll spare you the essay and simply note the most amazing of many amazing things about Raw:
You watch this film about a girl who becomes a cannibal, yet you never fail—not for one single frame of the film—to empathize with her completely. Not for one second.
Can you understand what magic that is?
She never becomes an other. She never becomes a thing. Whether she’s suffering through a wild hazing ritual, insane party, a class, or a meal of human flesh, you aren’t just watching her. You are her.
Calling it a cannibal movie or even a horror movie doesn’t do it justice.
It’s bewildering—almost upsetting—to think that this is Julia Ducournau’s directorial debut. She wrote the movie too. Is she a sorcerer? People are comparing her to Cronenberg because of the body horror, but I never saw Cronenberg make something this beautiful.
Normally, this would be the part of the post where I beg you to rush out and see it. I won’t do that. For one, it’s mostly gone from theaters. If you’re lucky enough to be somewhere it’s still playing, go for it, but you’re more likely to watch it at home on your TV a few months from now. The cinematography and sound—a big part of that masterful, empathy-inducing character POV—will have only a tiny fraction of the effect it should.
You’ll probably enjoy Raw, but you won’t go wild for it. You’ll check your phone thirty times during the film, hit pause, get up for food, etc. That’s ok. It’s the way of things. I do it too when I’m home.
You’re also not as crazy as me (about film?). So Raw likely won’t pull your brain out of your skull and stomp on it. That’s ok too.
So if I’m not telling you to rush out and see it, why even write a post about it?
Partly because this blog is a show and tell for the bizarre, and in this case, that’s me.
Partly because I often hear people say that Hollywood is out of ideas. And though this is not a Hollywood film, it shows that brilliant films still get made.
And partly because it’s the only way I have to praise the film. I can’t build a monument to honor it (I could, but I won’t). I can’t drag people to the theater to see it. But when something knocks me for a loop like this, I have to do something, even if it’s just to toss ineffectual words into the internet void.
So that’s it. Back to the norm. Donuts and robots, you know.
But last Thursday, I watched a movie and thought I’ve never seen anything like this.
And I’ve seen everything.
(I’ve seen all the movies)