Now more than ever, we need films like Elle: films that center around a woman, a complex woman, a contradictory woman. We don’t just need female heroes that are shiny super-versions of ourselves (but sometimes we need those, too). We need female characters that are complicated but who are nevertheless strong and in control.
Michèle (Isabelle Huppert, stunning and perfect for this role) is the epitome of control: an ice-cold CEO, a cynical mother and mistress, the daughter of a psychopath. Yet we first encounter her in a state of complete loss of control – mid-rape. This is usually the kind of event that breaks people, but not Michèle; she goes into the offensive. Her strategies of coping are bewildering, terrifying, and also strangely funny. But most of all, they’re empowering.
And no, this is not a straightforward revenge story – it’s much more complex and problematic than that. But the effect is the same. The message may be hard to swallow: do women have to be psychopaths in order to take back control? Well, maybe a little bit. In a world run by dangerous clowns, we need to toughen up and fight back. With any means necessary.