RAW opens with Justine being driven by her parents to the veterinary school
she's about to attend. This school is deeply entwined with her family: her
parents both went there, and her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is currently
enrolled. Justine - who is a vegetarian, as are her parents - is soon dropped
off, thrust into a new and unknown world. Things start to become murky when
Justine meets up with Alexia and learns that her sister is no longer a
vegetarian - a violation of the family ethos.
"I wanted to convey extreme apprehension at the start," Ducournau explained.
"Just seeing Justine's face looking at the window and clutching the car door as
if it's a protective cushion. She clearly doesn't know what's in store for her.
So she's apprehensive, but her light in the darkness is that she knows she's
going to meet her sister there, and she feels that her sister is like her rock,
she will be able to rely on Alexia through this new adventure. But the problem
is that, when she meets her sister, Alexia is really not what Justine expects
her to be. Alexia just treats her like all the other older students who are
hazing her. And where things become really bleak is when Alexia tells Justine
that Alexia's not a vegetarian anymore. Then things really start to fall apart
Justine's experience at the school becomes further destabilizing to her psyche
as extreme hazing sessions begin - beds being thrown out windows, new students
(called "rookies") being drenched in pig's blood, and so on. Ducournau wanted
the hazing to play as alarmingly as possible. "For me, it had to be super
striking because, at the beginning of the movie, you kind of feel like you're in
a normal coming of age movie, with Justine going off to school. So I wanted to
kick these expectations and wake up the audience with very brutal and energetic
scenes immediately after. Because you think, okay, she's going to find her new
life and discover love. No! It's going to be completely insane. I wanted it to
feel very sweaty and organic. That's why I used a handheld camera for so much of
those scenes. That's why we're seeing so many bodies, people are naked,
partying, and Justine is so the opposite of all that, so uncomfortable and out
of place at these parties."
Justine's lone friend in this strange new world is her roommate Adrien (Rabah
Nait Oufella). He alone provides Justine with some companionship in her early
moments at the school. Eventually, despite Adrien's sexual orientation, they
will become sexually involved. "I really wanted their relationship to be
exceptional. He is gay, but there is this connection between them. It exists
almost outside of this world. It's just him and her, and they have a love for
each other that is undefinable. They are brothers. They are best friends. They
love each other. They become lovers. They are a bit of everything to each other
in this hostile world."
While Justine and Adrien are forming a bond against the harsh environment
fostered by the older classmates, the hazing nevertheless continues, culminating
in the ultimate violation of Justine's beliefs: she is forced to eat a rabbit's
kidney. This act will soon lead to jarring physical changes. For Ducournau, it
is a turning point in the narrative, one in which things change irreversibly for
Justine. "The first important realization Justine has there is that she can't
call her parents all the time for help. Because she tells the upperclassmen, I'm
a vegetarian, I can't eat that, if you don't believe me I can call my parents,
and they just don't care. It's as if she's realizing, your parents are not here
anymore. It's her first acknowledgment that she's alone. So everything falls
apart from this moment because she's on her own and she's going to have to
manage by herself. Though fortunately she has Adrien. Adrien stands by her side
when this happens, and it is very important that her sister is across the table
from her, not helping her, and he's by her side."
Soon after she eats the kidney, Justine begins experiencing strange physical
She develops a rash, accompanied by scaly skin. She appears disoriented. One
night, as her sister is giving Justine a bikini wax, Alexia accidentally cuts
her own finger off - and passes out.
Justine's reaction is a surprising one: after calling for help, she grabs and
studies Alexia's lopped-off finger... and begins to eat it. It is this scene that
generates such strong audience reactions not, as Ducournau theorized, because of
its (relatively low) gore level, but because of the unnerving intimacy with
which the transgressive act is presented.
"I wanted the scene to be very intimate," Ducournau explained. "My main
stylistic idea with the lighting in general was that the more powerful scenes
should be shot in a very realistic way, and that the more mundane scenes should
have an edge with the light, they should feel less realistic than they appear.
So in this scene the lighting is super realistic. I actually asked myself a
question for this scene: what would I do if I had a finger that I had to take
care of that was severed? What would I do if I have to wait and there is this
finger? And you can't just ignore the finger, because it's here. And that's the
first thing that I thought, I can't ignore it. And then I thought, some people
would put the finger under a bowl and would stop looking at it until the firemen
or whoever or the ambulance comes. But also it's the only time you will have a
chance to see what's inside the finger. So the shot of Justine looking at the
finger begins with curiosity - what is a finger? And I think the moment is
uneasy because it could almost be natural.
she licks the blood from the finger when it overflows onto her palm is just a
reflex. Of course, it's not what anyone would do, but these impulses are
natural, in a way. Because with any other thing, like a chocolate bar that is
melting, people would do the same thing. So the idea was to put some very
rational and natural impulses on the situation that is completely not normal at
all, that makes the scene so unnerving. And this is how Justine maintains the
empathy of the audience, because I think her gestures are relatable. If she
shoved her face into an open belly and feasted on it like there is no tomorrow,
no one would have felt empathy for that. That's monstrous. But she's just a
human with a desire."
Alexia is soon taken to the hospital and she doesn't castigate Justine for
having eaten the finger. In fact, she seems particularly protective of Justine
for the first time, helping hide the reality of what happened from their
parents. It's soon after this that Justine learns that Alexia has cannibalistic
predilections as well - in a striking scene in which Alexia causes a car
accident so as to provide Justine with a victim (which Justine refuses). "In
this moment, Justine realizes that they are the same kind, there is no longer
older sister and younger sister. In a way, they have become equals, though they
clearly don't share the same moral values because Alexia is able to kill people
in order to eat, and Justine would not do that. The cannibalism is what drives
the sisters further apart because Justine is afraid to become this kind of
monster that her sister has become. So they have different takes on their
nature, on cannibalism, they really don't agree. So the cannibalism momentarily
pushes them apart, but in the end, the fact that they are sisters and the fact
that they are so close to each other is something that will never go away."
Justine's cannibalistic desires - desires that she can neither fully understand
nor totally figure out how to control - become increasingly intertwined with her
burgeoning sexuality. In one scene, she is forced - via hazing - to go into a
closet with a boy and make out, but only ends up biting him and running off.
Soon after, Justine's teeming sexual (and cannibalistic) energy is temporarily
discharged when she sleeps with Adrien - a scene that features Justine
attempting to bite him, but then forcing herself to sink her teeth into her own
arm rather than hurt her lover.
As with much of the narrative, Ducournau sees these moments as exemplifying an
internal struggle within Justine, a struggle that will only intensify as the
narrative progresses. "Justine has these desires, these needs that she's trying
to fight, but she's often placed in a context where she's being forced to give
into those needs, so she does. And in the scene in the bathroom, she really
hurts someone. But in the sex scene right afterwards, she proves herself to be a
moral person, because instead of eating Adrien, she hurts herself. She takes a
step forward in acknowledging her humanity. She has this glimpse of humanity
that illuminates who she is, and she hurts herself instead. This is central to
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