Michele, a wealthy business woman in France, is attacked and brutally raped in her home. She decides against calling the police for personal reasons and instead handles the issue totally on her own. Her life is complicated, with a father serving life in prison, her own affairs, her son’s and mother’s rocky relationships, and work issues. Michele is a video game producer, ironically creating a game promoting the same kind of rape culture she finds herself suffering. She is far too controlling of her life to consider herself a victim and, suspecting her attacker was one of the men serving under her, sets out to identify the rapist.
Though the plots are very different, Elle seems share a lot of the thematic exploration of sex, violence, and power with Basic Instinct, Verhoeven’s earlier work. The film addresses subjects like rape and murder as degrees of control between the participants. Michele is one of the most complicated characters I’ve ever seen, a woman so determined to exercise dominance over everything and everyone in her life that she doesn’t even report her own rape (not out of shame but so she is able to control when and how she uses that information). She manages every action in the pursuit of the rapist as if it were another business transaction. Isabelle Huppert executes her role with a superb mastery, giving the character a sociopathic edge and making her irresistible to watch. A simple expression from her can speak volumes or chill the blood in this taut thriller.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.