Humans are political animals and meat is a political food. As political animals, we decide what should be considered taboo and what should be normal. Meat has always been a controversial food, a tool to exclude and include people. In cinema it has often been used as a symbol of desire, an aphrodisiac which either arouses desire or is a subject of desire itself. Aamis (in Assamese) and Raw (in French) are two such movies that have successfully used meat as a protagonist. Watching these two movies back to back makes for a very stimulating activity with a hard-to-miss inflection point where the protagonist of both the movies seem to cross each other, only to choose different paths.
Aamis is the story of a middle-aged woman, Nirmali, who is at the point of her life where she seems to have everything. If there is such a thing as a “Great Indian Middle-Class Dream”, the protagonist is living it. She has a successful career as a pediatrician, a seemingly loyal yet busy husband, and a child. Yet there is something amiss. She doesn’t know what she is missing until she meets a much younger man, Sumon. It starts off as a very platonic relationship: they share their love for meat by eating out at different remote places serving different remote meats. Her relationship with Sumon seems fine just like her life, but this apparent normality is mostly because of Nirmali’s prudish attitude and self-denial, first about her stagnant relationship with her husband and then with Sumon. She has a very contemptuous reaction to her friend’s extramarital affairs and she considers herself above this nuisance only to find out that she is not that holier-than-thou. This suppression of desire manifests in a completely ghastly form when she realizes that if she can’t sleep with her lover, she can literally eat his body parts. The lover boy, Sumon, is the one who introduces her to this dark web of desire. In the entire movie, these two never touch each other even by mistake. Its only when they are completely boycotted by the society and are seen as freaks in the society, an outcaste, that they hold each other’s hands.
Raw, on the other hand, is a story of a young woman, Justine, who has just joined a veterinary college and kicked off her adult life. However, she finds it really difficult to adjust to her new life. Like Nirmali, she seems little prudish and preachy. She has strong opinion on animals and meats, since she is a vegetarian herself. She takes a U-turn only to realize that she likes to eat human meat like her sister. Her sister, however, has turned into a cannibal, unable to reign in her animal instincts. She also comes across as aggressive and more often than not bullies Justine into doing things she won’t otherwise do. The movie can also be seen as a commentary on the definition of normal as set by the society. For the uninitiated, the Veterinary College that the movie has portrayed can come across as scary and exaggerated. The students seem to engage in all kind of activities that no parents would like their children to engage in. Justine, like us, feels out of place here and rightly so. Most of the students, except her steamy hot roommate of course, come across as downright appalling and hostile – and that includes her sister as well. Her sister does everything that can make her fit in better; Justine, on the other hand, resists, but to no avail. Her sister appears normal in this place only for us to find out that she not only has cannibalistic desires she also indulges herself by killing actual people. Justine, who is a total misfit, resists not only becoming like the others as well as her sister; she also resists her cannibalistic desires. She does not relativize the rights and wrongs. In this sense, she acts as a moral authority in her own right.
One can call Aamis a story of ‘desire through meat’, while Raw is a story of ‘desire for meat’. While Nirmali resisted and eventually suppressed her sexual urges for her lover only to discover her lust for human meat, Justine resisted her desire for human meat only to discover her newfound sexual urges. The major difference between Nirmali and Justine is that of the society that they inhabit, the former considered sexual digression worse than cannibalism because the way sex and more specifically adultery is treated in our society makes it seem like the most egregious crime one can commit while the latter had recourse to indulge in guiltless sexual escapade in the hypersexual environment she inhabited. Justine chose to repress her animal instinct to come out as more humane. Nirmali chose to repress her human instincts to come out as more animalistic. In the end, both of them give us a lesson on desire and how to (or not to) handle it.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.