Vivian (Jiexiao) Ying
April 10, 2017
Film Theory Prospectus Draft
Word Count: 629
Crouching Animals: Image and Reception of Female Cannibals in The Lure (2015) and Raw (2016)
My paper will discuss the images and reception of female cannibals in horror films by female directors, with a focus on the recent release The Lure (2015) and Raw (2016). Different from the negatively coded female cannibals in history (Lestringent “Birth of Cannibal, The Cannibal à la mode”), female cannibals on screen take up a revolutionary message. As hereditary female cannibal sisters, the protagonists in both films indicate a rebellious idea of female sexuality through the body-centered cannibalism. In contrary to the carnal inferiority in Cartesian dualism, The Lure embraces the spectacular beauty and sexual appeal of the fish-woman body, and Raw unapologetically foregrounds the pleasurable bodily potential of the sexual organism. Both value the body shape and carnal pleasure as it is.
Moreover, the meditation in these films on the body and animalistic nature is not confined to the context of femininity, but also extends to the question of how human beings deal with the primal urge. By drawing back to vision the cannibalism in fantastic horror films, the directors ruminate on our approach to preserving humanity while admitting the wilder part within us, which is often repressed and exiled to the outskirt society but continuously encroaching upon the civilized world and our self-identity as human beings.
I will also talk about the reception of female cannibals on screen because the film lives on audience’s sensations and engage the audience in a bodily way (Sobchack “What my fingers knew”), which presupposes the shared animalistic drive among the viewers (Sobchack “Phenomenology and Film Experience”). In the case of Raw, the director presents the first cannibal scene after establishing the figure of a quotidian first-year student, who involuntarily has her sister wax her hair and accidentally cut the latter’s finger, and lightening up our empathetic bodily pain with humor embedded in the sister’s comic faint. As a result, the audience experiences not repulsion but the craving for flesh during the screening, which leads to our understanding the girl within the frame of “us” human rather than cannibal as the “other”.
I choose to study female cannibals on screens and its affect on viewers, because body genre has not been adequately discussed in a theoretical frame (according to Linda Williams in “Cinema as Skin”), which is not reasonable because emotional thinking is the essence of cinematic experience. In addition, the recent years witness a surge of female director’s horror films, which attach feminism upon the turn towards the body and reflect upon female sexuality misrepresented or underrepresented by most male directors.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. “Chapter 8, The Meaning of Food: Food as Physicality. Chapter 9, Women as Body and as Food. Chapter 10, Women’s Symbols.” Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. No. 1. Univ of California Press, 1987.
Elsaesser, Thomas, and Malte Hagener. “Cinema as Skin-Body and Touch.” Film theory: An introduction through the senses. Routledge, 2015.
Kiesecoms, Tom. “RAW Interview: Julia Ducournau on the Thematic Charge and Cinematic Language of Her Cannibalistic Shocker.” Screenanarchy. March 6, 2017. Accessed April 10, 2017. http://screenanarchy.com/2017/03/raw-interview-julia-ducournau-on-the-thematic-charge-and-cinematic-language.html
Lestringant, Frank, and Rosemary Morris. “Part I: From Cynocephali to Cannibals.” Cannibals: The discovery and representation of the cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne. Vol. 37. Univ of California Press, 1997.
Shepherd, Jack. “Raw director Julia Ducournau talks cannibals, humanity, and fainting.” Independent. March 30, 2017. Accessed April 10, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/julia-ducournau-interview-raw-director-cannibalism-humanity-fainting-sick-a7658651.html
Sobchack, Vivian. “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh.” Senses of Cinema. June 8, 2011. Accessed March 22, 2017. <http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/conference-special-effects-special-affects/fingers/>.
Sobchack, Vivian. “Phenomenology and Film Experience.” In Critical Visions in Film Theory, edited by Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White and Meta Mazaj, 62-68. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.
Ducournau, Julia. 2016. Raw.
Smoczyńska, Agnieszka. 2015. The Lure.
Thank you for reading and helping me out. I am not familiar with the screen history of cannibals and female cannibals, so I only talked about the myth of cannibals in an anthropological sense. If you know about the cannibal films that addresses sexuality, please tell me. 🙂
6 thoughts on “Prospectus”
This seems like a very timely and interesting research. While reading your two-fold prospectus, I particularly thought of the ‘abject’ theory (Barbara Creed, Julia Kristeva) regarding the first part of your proposal, in that carnal/animalistic side of us is often deserted in defining our identity as human. It also resonates with Agamben’s concept of Homo Sacer, in that certain aspects (here cannibalistic ones) are repressed not only within an individual but also in order to keep the society. The most interesting part is that these desires are not completely gone but remain at the edge of the “accepted,” constantly negotiating the boundaries. Looking forward to your final paper! (By the way, I also enjoyed watching Raw. Now I need watch The Lure! It seems interesting that both films feature “sisters”. Do you think there could be something there?)
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Thank you Hyojin,
It is a really timely help to me. I feel my theories not diversified and need help with broadening my foods of thought. “Abject” theory fits well and echoes to the director’s interview, and I will read more about Agamben’s concept of “Homo Sacer” to see if I could handle it. Thank you again for giving me very helpful inspiration and detailed recommendations.
Regarding the sisterhood, I consider the sister as a mirror of the protagonists, who preserve the other possibilities of their lives. The greedy and out-of-control cannibals (this can be incorporated in my paper! ). If I do not treat them metaphorically, I would say that sisterhood formulates a bond for women, the sister in the Lure takes the revenge for her (hope it is not a spoiler), but the sister in Raw cannot be explained this way. I still wonder…
Well, this sounds amazing. As a massive fan of the horror genre and having done lots of research and the exposition and role of women specifically within the genre, I think this sounds like a very prevalent topic to analyze and write about. I especially like the idea of “preserving humanity while admitting the wilder part within us, which is often repressed and exiled to the outskirt society but continuously encroaching upon the civilized world and our self-identity as human beings.” I think this topic alone takes your argument to a greater space of humanity and renders it applicable to life and art on a grander scale outside of the cinematic realm.
I have yet to see both of the films you will be discussing (although I have been meaning to), but they sound like perfect examples to highlight your thesis, as well as effectively introduce the idea of sexuality, cannibalism, cinema as skin/touch/feel and female power. I think Nicolas Winding Refen’s “The Neon Demon” and the turn to commentary on cannibalistic attachments to beauty, fame and success. The film also turns to pose women against each other, which is an interesting take as well.
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Thank you, Jack, for giving me concrete advice from the perspective of a horror fan!
It is interesting that both you and Hyojin bring out the sisterhood without looking at each other’s post. From a feminist point of view, I do not like sisters posed against each other, luckily the elder sister protects the younger one in the Lure even though it is not always the case in Raw. I feel that the sister in Raw is a mirror for the other’s hidden side, a fable.
Below I have provided my comments. I hope my comments are helpful.
1. Let me start off by saying that I think you have chosen a fascinating sub-genre of cinema to examine and I believe your prospectus has considerable potential. Your prospectus effectively conveys your approach and your overall thesis. I also think your analysis could contribute to a broadened understanding of synesthesia in contemporary cinema.
2. While you have a strong foundation for your prospectus, I wonder if it might be productive to incorporate some of Christian Metz’s theories concerning identification to bolster your argument concerning reception and audience identification. It also might be productive to include Metz’s theories to examine the ethical concerns of identification with the characters in The Lure and Raw. In regards to your questions regarding historical depictions of cannibals, have you done any research regarding the Mondo Film Movement in Italy? The Mondo films were principally documentary-style exploitation works that depicted highly sensational scenes including cannibalism. However, I don’t know how much you want to broaden the scope of your research.
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Hi, James! Thank you for broadening my thought with Metz and Mondo Films. Metz’s identification falls into the psychoanalytical trend, which I find interesting but at the same time difficult to apply. But I think that interpreting the audience response from different scopes will definitely help me. I will look into Mondo a bit and see if I can deepen the historical dimension. How I wish I could have more time to do this project, at least starting earlier!