Bound by Love and Torn by Flesh: Coming-of-Age through Cannibalism
by Marcella Pansini
Raw (2017) is a horror coming-of-age story that explores the emergence of two sisters into adulthood. The film primarily follows Justine, a first-year sheltered and perfectionist veterinary student. She is a virgin in every sense of the word, having never tasted flesh, neither animal nor human, nor had sex. These primal urges are connected throughout the film, starting when Justine is peer-pressured into eating raw rabbit kidney for a school hazing ritual. This film becomes a metaphor for an adolescent’s experiences with experimentation and often convoluted search for independence.
One scene in particular acts as the catalyst for this search for self (0:19:54). Justine’s sister, Alexia, urges Justine to eat the rabbit kidney and abandon her lifelong vegetarianism in order to fit in. The scene features an over-the-shoulder shot of Alexia and Justine as well as a close-up of Justine’s face. Dull lighting shines over the sisters, who are dressed in neutral shades of white that contrasts with the vivid red of the animal’s blood. The complicated relationship between the two sisters is also seen. The audience sees Alexia as the aggressor as she towers over her sister and shoves the undesired food into Justine’s mouth. However, the wariness in Justine’s eyes shows she is still conflicted on whether to trust her sister or not. The audience feels disgust for Alexia’s actions and sympathy towards Justine due to Justine’s facial expressions and Alexia’s positioning. This scene and Justine’s first cannibalistic experience offset Justine’s physical and psychological transformation throughout the film and reveal her family’s secret cannibalistic history.
An animal that’s tasted human flesh isn’t safe” (0:49:06). This claim, spoken halfway through the film by their father, could serve as the film’s thesis statement. This line of dialogue brings the concept of vampires, zombies and other flesh consuming monsters to the forefront of the audience’s mind. Over the course of the film, Justine undergoes a physical transformation that shows her character’s psychological turmoil, transforming from an innocent girl to a feral, sex-crazed monster as she explores parts of herself she didn’t know existed. This transformation culminates in Justine’s ravenous consumption of her sister’s amputated finger beside her unconscious body (0:45:56). Lupton’s Food, the Body and the Self explains the motivation behind parents’ exertion of dominance over a child’s eating habits: “control over the child’s diet is vital. Not only is the offspring’s present health at stake, but his whole future evolution” (950). Similarly, Justine’s parents had used strict control over her diet to try to keep her from following their family’s history of cannibalism. However, by Alexia forcing Justine to eat the raw rabbit kidney she is pushed down a path of discovering both her family’s secret history and her own innate desires. Justine’s relationship with meat and human flesh is largely defined by the shame and lustful feelings it provides her. This negative association with desires of the flesh ends after Justine consumes Alexia’s finger. By Alexia forgiving Justine, she provides her sister with the gift of food in the form of her flesh which demonstrates the love and trust they have for each other. This allows Justine to feel accepted and complete her search for self.
Exploring independence and discovering who you really are is difficult. Raw uses food and consuming human meat as a metaphor for sexual awakening and experimentation, creating a connection between sex and carnivorism. This metaphor also follows how our identity changes through exploration. Cannibalism also represents Justine’s evolving understanding of herself — both where she comes from and where she’s going.
Ducournau, Julia, director. Raw. Focus World, 2017.
Lupton, Deborah. “Food, the Body and the Self.” Google Books.