“…it shall be revealed by fire.”
– Corinthians 3:13

“If our aim is to explore the farthest potentialities of being, we may well opt for the disorderliness and randomness of love.”
– Georges Bataille1

Fire (To Drive) 

In the beginning, there’s the sound of metal. A black screen gives way to zoomed-in tentacles, lustrous metallic innards of car or creature. The sound of metal spins, piercing the air. At this proximity, it’s hard to tell sight from sound, metal from muscle. Now a wide shot reveals a road. Now a car. Now a young girl is humming in the backseat, her father at the wheel. Now the car crashes. Now an operating room where, at disorientingly close proximity, an ornate metal plate gets fused, pearlescent and silvery and red, to a head.


Fire (To Be Titanium)

 Titane (Titanium) is a lustrous metal, silver in colour and resistant to corrosion. Strong, unyielding, hard to ruin. In the film, Titanium works like a technological medium, both extension and amputation, superabundance and negation. 2 Heavy metal is foregrounded and magnified in these opening sequences, creating a thick, claustrophobic, and glimmering mood. When young Alexia leaves the hospital after her surgery, we’re five minutes into the film and the titanium plate forms a spiral above her ear as she hugs the car and runs her hands over its exterior, communicating wordlessly, metal and flesh and metal. 

Hard, lightweight, and heat-resistant, titanium is used to construct the bodies of certain cars. Titanium is added to technologies to extend their lifespan – blades, casings, fasteners, heat shields, and gas turbine engines. Compatible with the human body, titanium is used as prosthesis and replacement in neuro and other surgeries. Titanium, hard to break, is an unyielding mediator, only beginning to melt at over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Fire (To Desire)

Cut to a car show where we recognize Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) – now an adult – by her scarified spiral in a spiralic tracking shot vectoring desires and gazes as the camera hovers near her head while she pushes through blurs of light and people, pulls her hair back and fastens it in place with a metal stick. Open car hoods, up-close engines, shining exteriors, and women dancing crowd the frame. When a man tries to touch one of the dancers a bouncer yells: “You touch with your eyes.” Stoic, Alexia moves through the crowd. The crowd parts as a car painted with orange and red flames is given tactile and tender camera treatment – “You touch with your eyes” – before Alexia begins dancing with the vehicle.


“Desire moves. Eros is a verb,” writes Anne Carson.3 

After the show, Alexia leaves. The camera hovers near her head as she barrels through the parking lot, a man from the car show running after her. He requests an autograph and a kiss. Mid-makeout, she grabs the metal stick that’s been holding her hair back and jams it into his ear. He seizes and falls to the ground. She pulls the metal out of his ear, fastens her hair back in place, drags his dead body into the backseat of her car, and showers. Mid-shower, we hear several forceful knocks at the door and when, naked, she answers, it’s the car she’d been dancing with, headlights on, tender flicker across Alexia’s face. They have sex, the car shaking as holy music plays, headlights dazzling the frame. 

The next morning, she moans in pain, an oily blackish substance between her legs. Titane moves fast, a verb, to desire and to play with fire, forming (at least) two films in one.


Fire (To Penetrate, to Disintegrate)

Plato’s Timeaus sketches a cosmology where the tactility and composition of elements spin and sustain a universe. While outlining the body’s sensations and textures, fire and its hotness appear: “We can begin by calling to mind the dividing and cutting effect of it on our own bodies; for we all know that the sensation it gives is a piercing one. Fire is called hot because it “cuts into anything it encounters” with its “special ability to penetrate and disintegrate” bodies.4 Soon after, the qualities hard soft heavy light are explained in terms of their relationship to flesh, how and whether they make it yield or bend. We can read Titane formally in terms of fire’s penetrative and disintegrative heat.

As we’ll see, what appears at first to be a horror film about a car-fucking murderer (Alexia haplessly killing people with a metal hair utensil) alchemizes into a father-son story which gives way to a story about firefighters and male bonding which becomes a love story culminating in a kind of impossible (re)birth, a new and ambiguous hybrid form, titanium and flesh. For all its machinic desires, Titane is not an ode to technological transcendence or getting-beyond the human. Flesh’s limits are central. A body horror film that is also a love letter to the body, divulging a hard-edged process of becoming-human through distressing, erotic, and terrifying uses and encounters with material. Flesh yields to metal and metal penetrates flesh, metal (heavy) melts into softness, light jettisoning motor oil in supernatural inner beams to reveal a thin cosmic threshold between life and death. Fire moves, a verb, through and against bodies.


Fire (To Destroy)

On a date with Justine, a dancer whom we first encountered at the car show, Alexia continues to leak motor oil, her stomach stretching. On the toilet, she attempts to abort whatever’s growing inside of her with her metallic hair weapon to no avail. Next, she kills Justine and several of Justine’s roommates via metal puncture, before returning home to set fire to her clothing. As the flames spread from their enclosure, Alexia, face aglow, appears transfixed. She proceeds to lock her parents in their room as the house burns down, orange flames pulsating as she hitchhikes away.

As Alexia realizes the authorities are looking for her, an information screen at the train station displays a longtime missing boy named Adrien Legrand whose projected adult face resembles Alexia’s. In the bathroom, she cuts her hair, breaks her nose, and tapes her breasts down, becoming/escaping-into Adrien. Like a forest fire, her actions are random and unplanned, riding waves of certain opportunities as they appear. The violence and horror which pervade the film’s first third are a result of Alexia’s natural-disaster-like or machine-like indifference. In a forest fire, one house is left untouched while its neighboring structure is reduced to ashes. From the start, the film raises important questions about the (in)human(e). What is a human? How do technologies make/change/destroy/extend the human form and capacity for love and hate? What combinations do a car and a human make? How do human and machinic violences work? What are the catastrophic or fortunate consequences of our relationships with machines?

Fire (To Dance)

Forty-minutes have passed. Alexia, as Adrien, rides shotgun in Vincent’s car. Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a fire chief, is tearfully thrilled to have his son back after many years. Later, in Adrien’s vacant room, Alexia/Adrien unwraps her growing belly and breasts – containment and overflow. She must present as Adrien, a young man and simultaneously, her pregnant body swells with something unknown.

Early in her stay, she hovers her metal hair weapon over Vincent after he nods off. Largely silent, the film asks us to read bodies, how flesh yields to forms and makes forms yield, hesitating or accelerating. She puts the weapon down and helps Vincent. The film’s heavy metal horror gradually evanesces. Alexia stops killing. She doesn’t start any more fires. She begins, with Vincent and the group of men at the firehouse, to contain them. 

At a firehouse party, the dancing bodies create a zone where boundaries blur into an inchoate background, a space where moving bodies evade categorization as light flickers, saturating curves and facial features. Are Adrien and Vincent father and son? Two strangers? Potential lovers? The purple light erupts into red. It doesn’t matter. 


Fire (To Change) 

All things change to fire,

and fire exhausted

falls back into things.5

Heraclitus, in the 6th century BC, thought fire was the cosmic state of things, as fire is the element that most performs the constant flux of the universe. Fire, a verb, perpetually destroys-creates. Fire’s indifference and transformative properties, its ability to burn (through) words and boundaries is (at least) double-edged. Turning to ashes what was once formed, fire reveals that which remains after the end, then starts again.

Air dies giving birth

to fire. Fire dies

giving birth to air.6

Like Titane, Heraclitus’s fiery fragments are physical, performing fire’s operations with language. To read them is to climb a ladder back and forth, processual and dizzying effervescent pyrotechnics of death and (re)birth. Of his work, only fragments remain. Near the end, he says:

Yearning hurts,

and what release

may come of it

feels much like death.7

Fire (To Love)

At the end of the “Mysticism and Sensuality” chapter in Georges Bataille’s Erotism: Death and Sensuality, he tells us that love is that which will help us explore the “farthest potentialities of being.” Love – one part of eroticism’s white heat – de-instrumentalizes. For Bataille, without the disorderly play of sensual love, “the present instant is subordinated to preoccupation with the time to come.”8 Love, like body horror and fire, morphs forms. In Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson writes this about eros: “Boundaries of body, categories of thought, are confounded.”9 Reflecting on Sappho’s poetic exclamation that eros is “sweetbitter,” Carson notes: “The shape of love and hate is perceptible, then, in a variety of sensational crises. Each crisis calls for decision and action, but decision is impossible and action a paradox when eros stirs the senses.”10 Titane wordlessly shows shapes of love and hate transmuting as the characters’ states become evident not through dialogue but through crises of sensation

Titane becomes a love story because Alexia/Adrien moves from a state of instrumentalization (using fire or her metal stick to kill; using Vincent and his firehouse as an escape hatch) to a state of incalculable and boundary-defying excess (expressing love for another human). Or: Alexia’s relationship to her surroundings and the people in them moves from




Georges Bataille’s formula for erotic love differs from the classic one given by Plato. For Bataille, eroticism is not about desiring what one doesn’t have and seeking out completion nor is it a route for finding oneself through a relationship with another, puzzle piece to puzzle piece. Rather, it’s about losing oneself in sacred and explosive instants: “Erotism, it may be said, is assenting to life up to the point of death.”11 The violence that necessarily infuses eroticism isn’t exploitative or cruel but spastic and excessive, allowing a form to move from discontinuity to continuity, from preservation and enclosure to expenditure without reserve to find a sacred and ungraspable communication. Bataille writes: “What does physical eroticism signify if not a violation of the very being of its practitioners?”12 For Bataille, eroticism is transgression.

Despite attempts at escaping bodies (Vincent injects steroids; Alexia tamps down her growing pregnant form), bodies reach limits, break down, split open. The bodily form becomes a site for horror and joy as love transpierces categories of identity and relation (father/son). Dissolution, as Georges Bataille reminds us, is the formal expression of the erotic, where bodies “open out to a state of continuity through secret channels.”13 Titane often leaves those channels mysterious. As Vincent tells Alexia/Adrien: “I don’t care who you are. You’ll always be my son.”

Fire (To Contain)

What begins as titanium (a fire-resistant, hard, and opaque metal) dematerializes, grows, and shapeshifts. Alexia painfully leaks motor oil, her growing womb an active and unwieldy container. At the film’s start Alexia seemed impermeable, a kind of destroying angel who eventually, through a series of environmental and relational alterations, begins to find other movements and emotions (dancing, playing, fighting fires, growing, giving birth…) 

Her body slowly breaks open in inky rips and we witness the labour of containment as the boundary between the inside and outside of her body thins. Here, the womb is container technology. Zoë Sofia’s “Container Technologies” is an intriguing extension of Heidegger’s theories of the jug in “The Thing” (1962), reimagining a multifaceted container that challenges ideas about container as passive and feminine environment:

The container technologies project is conceived of as a corrective to phallic biases in the interpretation of technology and as a way of getting beyond critique of traditional western notions of space as passive, feminine, and unintelligent, and towards exploring and developing more recent ideas about what counts as smartness, and where it is located, in an entity-environment complex.14

Alexia/Adrien wraps and unwraps, attempting to contain her splitting-open and leaking form over and over again: charged interplays of passivity and activity, muscular openness and pliable bones. In Titane, the pyrotechnics of love disappear demarcations and selves, commence violent and exuberant processes of vanishing, something new sprung from a lit-up, changed, broken form…

Fire (To Die, to Deliver, to Vanish)

What do fire, love, desire deliver? Deliver us from? As Vincent delivers Alexia/Adrien’s baby in a kind of salvation process, head, stomach, and sides ripping open as blue light pushes through swathes of motor oil, her destroyed form is made sacred, both annihilated and elevated. As Vincent tells Alexia/Adrien to push, she is at once his son, his lover, and a stranger. “Is it okay?” she asks, and then dies. The baby, titanium-spined, cries on Vincent’s bare chest. 

Media theorist John Durham Peters writes that fire is: 

a subtractive technique, a way to make things vanish, an antidote to the pressure of objects. Fire is where nature goes to disappear; it is nature’s eraser. Like sound, it exists by disappearing. Dematerialization is one of fire’s greatest gifts. It gives humans access to the immense and crucial realm of non-being…15

Into which realms does the movement of fire open access? The disorderliness and randomness of love morphs human forms as it alters modes of containment. Finally, car fucking is not what makes Titane transgressive. Its transgressiveness comes from its stance on love, which is evident in the film’s fiery formal structure. Love’s fierce and tender moves transgress (cross over, step over, pass beyond) bodily and relational boundaries and demarcations. Here, love does not complete or make whole. It reveals ruptures, lacerations, excesses, incompleteness. A new form of life but also disappearance, death.


  1. Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality (San Francisco: City Lights Press, 1986), p. 251.
  2. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994), p. 42. What McLuhan writing about the nervous system, amputation, and extension in relation to media is a helpful way to think about the many ways titanium is used as a mediator, threshold, portal, and barrier in the film: “In the physical stress of superstimulation of various kinds, the central nervous system acts to protect itself by a strategy of amputation or isolation of the offending organ, sense, or function. Thus, the stimulus to new inventions is the stress of acceleration of pace and increase of load. For example, in the case of the wheel as an extension of the foot, the pressure of new burdens resulting from the acceleration of exchange by written and monetary media was the immediate occasion of the extension or ‘amputation’ of this function from our bodies.”
  3. Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay (Champaign: Dalkey Archive, 1986), p. 17.
  4. Plato, Timaeus and Critias (London: Penguin Books, 1965), p. 87-88.
  5. Heraclitus, Fragments (New York: Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 15.
  6. Ibid., p. 17.
  7. Ibid., p. 69.
  8. Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, p. 251.
  9. Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet, p. 7.
  10. Ibid., p. 8.
  11. Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality, p. 11.
  12. Ibid., p. 17.
  13. Ibid., p. 17.
  14. Zoë Sofia, “Container Technologies,” Hypatia, volume 15, issue 2 (Spring: 2000): p. 198.
  15. John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 119.

About The Author

Emmalea Russo is a writer. Her work has appeared in many venues, including Artforum, BOMB, and Granta. Her books of poetry include G (2018), Wave Archive (2019), and Confetti (forthcoming from Hyperidean in 2022). She edits the multidisciplinary journal Asphalte Magazine.

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