Joyce discusses ‘Elle’, a cinematic tour-de-force about sexual assault that is anything but a cliché
[content warning: rape, sexual assault, violence against women]
…a dark, provocative and controversial psychological thriller about one’s woman response to sexual assault.
In a number of ways, ‘Elle’ (meaning ‘she’ in French) was certainly an unforgettable film for me and it definitely strayed from the norm. It was not only gripping, but also refreshing. Directed by Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven, ‘Elle’ can be said to be his most daring work yet: a dark, provocative and controversial psychological thriller about one’s woman response to sexual assault.
‘Elle’ tells the story of Michèle, a successful and assertive head of a video game company, who is assaulted and raped in her home one day. Unlike most people, despite being reeled by the sudden attack, she quickly and calmly gets on with life and doesn’t report it to the police, which seems strange at first, but the reason behind her decision is later revealed. Growing up as the daughter of an infamous mass murderer, Michèle is scarred by the events of her dark childhood and wary of law enforcement. Besides, she has a contentious relationship with her mother that sleeps around and she feels detached from her son, who pays more attention to his girlfriend, whom Michèle doesn’t get along with.
Michèle continues to get creepy text messages from her assailant and grows suspicious of the people around her.
Following the attack, Michèle continues to get creepy text messages from her assailant and grows suspicious of the people around her. She hallucinates, thinking that people are laughing at her and as a response to the trauma that she has experienced since childhood; Michèle puts on a strong façade and numbs herself emotionally- to the extent of amorality. Many of her actions are morally questionable yet she doesn’t seem to feel guilt at all, which makes it rather scary to watch at times. Michèle soon finds out the identity of her attacker, who is someone she has least expected it to be and instead of keeping her distance, her relationship with him continues spiralling in a rather absurd and unfathomable fashion. As his attacks continue, they get involved in a strange and twisted game.
‘Elle’ definitely distinguished itself from typical psychological thrillers due to its provocative nature. It was controversial, thought-provoking and in other words, refreshing. Michèle’s actions stray away from normative human behaviour and her indifference towards situations intrigued and captivated me, despite it being morally dubious and slightly unnerving at times. The film’s storyline was rather unpredictable and definitely had depth to it. Despite being dark and complex, it had comedic moments as well, which injected some light-heartedness and gave it the perfect balance.
Acting-wise, Isabelle Huppert who plays Michèle, certainly didn’t disappoint. Her Oscar-nominated acting was raw and vulnerable, and despite having to play such a difficult multi-layered character who’s been through so much, Isabelle pulled a believable performance and this can be said to be one of her best performances. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography of the film- it captured the essence of a ‘thriller’ film and contributed to the build-up of suspense.
…clever and shocking yet strangely captivating as it makes one question human nature and the psychology behind human behaviour.
To sum it up, Paul Verhoeven’s Golden Globe-winning latest work can thus be described as: clever and shocking yet strangely captivating as it makes one question human nature and the psychology behind human behaviour. However, to be objective- some might find it too intense, bizarre and would fail to appreciate how crude and twisted the storyline is, but I thoroughly enjoyed the depth and unconventional nature of it.
My favourite type of films are those that stay in my head and leave my thinking, questioning and feeling the need to discuss/find out more after leaving the cinema and Elle has cleverly captured all of that. For anyone feeling tired of typical cliché films that lack the depth of storyline, this is a must watch. You’ll find yourself questioning the boundaries of what is ‘normal’ human behaviour and contemplating the film for hours/days after leaving the cinema.
If you have been affected by any of the themes in this piece and want someone in Bristol to talk to, please check out these helpful organisations on the Rife Guide