Trans Am: Revving Up the Queer Engine Of TITANE

Examining the sexual and gender fluidity within Julia Ducournau's Palme d'Or winning body horror drama.

By Brant Lewis · @Brant__Lewis · May 19, 2022, 6:00 PM EDT
TITANE (2021)

It would be easy to label Titane as the movie where a woman gets impregnated by a car, but Julia Ducournau's film has more underneath its hood. Coming off the back of the critical hit Raw, Ducournau's latest body horror movie won the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and generated tons of press. Aside from the automobile sex, the hilarious house massacre, and one shocking instance of the protagonist brutally breaking her nose, queerness exists as the engine of Titane. The word drips with queerness on every level as it explores sexual and gender fluidity within its main characters and story. If the sexual and gender binary is a well-worn asphalt road, Ducournau takes the viewer off the beaten path in a high-speed muscle car to show another way of reaching its destination.


Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) received a metal plate from a childhood car crash and now works as a car show exotic dancer who moonlights as a serial killer with a sexual inclination for cars. Although it's never said outright, Alexia's sexuality can be best described as queer since she shows an interest in both men and women and inanimate objects like cars. The only times she has sex within the film are with the car and again with a fire truck near the end, but she almost sleeps with fellow dancer Justine (Garance Marillier).

The inclusion of the car as a sexual object demonstrates the fluidity of sexuality since it goes beyond the typical heteronormative binary. Even her suggestive dancing on the car's hood for the auto show can be viewed as foreplay before the ritual action. To Alexia, sexual attraction is not limited solely to humans but extends to vehicles. As a result, Alexia becomes a much more complicated queer character that forces the viewer to dissect and examine their relationship to sexuality. While some may view Alexia's sexual fluidity as monstrous, there's also a beauty because she is unapologetic about it.


Another essential aspect of queerness lies in creating the titanium baby hybrid. Following her liaison with the car, Alexia discovers that she is pregnant with some being within her. The baby's existence results from non-traditional reproduction since it has both human and metallic features. In an interview with Indiewire, Ducournau states, "Monstrosity is always positive" when talking about the child. Titane does not demonize the queering of sexual reproduction but embraces it. Ducournau is not interested in a simple binary but desires to investigate it profoundly. Much like traditional pregnancies, there are still complications and difficulties, yet it still results in a healthy baby. As a result, reproduction becomes much more fluid and less cut and dry than how it is traditionally presented.

Titane also queers the heteronormative gender binary. Alexia acts highly feminine while performing as a dancer and wears skimpy silver clothing, neon fishnets, and heels with makeup. In her role as a dancer, this highly feminine presentation becomes a part of the job, and she is viewed as a woman in the car show's male-dominated space. She must follow the constructs of femininity within the space to be considered a woman.

Similarly, when Alexia becomes Adrien, a boy who went missing years ago, she must change her gender presentation to be viewed as masculine. Due to binding her chest, breaking her nose, shaving her head, and not speaking, Adrien's father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), views her as his son. Gender does not become the sole defining feature of Alexia, as Ducournau believes it is "incredibly limiting to our comprehension of individuality, but also to our comprehension of the interactions we can have with others." The queering of gender makes it much more difficult to label Alexia as purely feminine or masculine within the traditional binary due to her androgynous appearance. During a party at the fire station, Alexia, disguised as Adrien, is forced to dance in front of the other firefighters. She decides to dance like her old showgirl self, which divides the men. Alexia dancing femininely creates a disconnect with how the other firefighters are supposed to see her.


Although Ducournau does not see Alexia as trans, the movie still has trans elements, such as passing [being perceived as a gender or sex other than the sex assigned at birth.] Following the car show, a rude male fan stalks Alexia to her car and forces her to kiss him. This moment is later mirrored when Alexia, as Adrien rides a bus and sees a group of men sexually harass a woman, but the men leave Alexia alone due to believing she is a man. These moments highlight the dangers of the traditional gender binary based on the reaction to Alexia within similar situations where the only difference is her gender presentation. Within a trans lens, the moments bring up notions of passing and being able to present as another gender based on the perception of others. Because of passing as a man, Alexia avoids the potential harassment that could have occurred. Also, she must pass as a man at the all-male firehouse. Initially an outcast, Alexia/Adrien gradually becomes accepted due to Vincent presenting her as his son and being accepted as Adrien. While dancing in a homosocial rave with the other men under queer coded lights, one firefighter discovers Alexia's true identity and confronts Vincent about it, but Vincent reinforces her status as his son. While the firefighters may have needed some time to welcome her, they eventually received her as another male firefighter.


Finally, the relationship between Alexia/Adrien, and Vincent highlights the queered gender binary. After Alexia presents herself as Adrien to the police, an officer asks Vincent if he wants a DNA test to prove her identity, and he shuts him down, claiming he knows his son. In Titane, the relationship between parent and child is not limited to being defined by biology but rather by love. Despite being Alexia, Vincent only sees her as his son, which goes beyond the typical binary. The most vital moment occurs after Vincent accidentally walks into the bathroom and sees Alexia in only a towel. He proclaims, "I don't care who you are. You're my son. You'll always be my son. Whoever you are. Is that clear?" and hugs her. Vincent unconditionally accepts Alexia/Adrien despite not being his biological child and still welcomes her into the family. This familiar love and relationship queers that gender binary since he accepts her for who she truly is. Best put by the director, "Love is capable of making you see someone for who they are, no matter what social constructs you could have put on them, no matter what representation or expectations you had for them."

Titane has stuck with me since I saw it last October. It's a beautiful film that is unapologetically queer in all aspects. It might not be for everyone, but if it is for you, it hits hard. My best advice, let go of the steering wheel and let Titane drive while you enjoy the ride.

Titane is now streaming, click below to watch now.