Trouble Every Day (2001)

Trouble Every Day is quite an experience. For a film with such a slim narrative and brief plot summary, it’s hard to believe how much co-writer/director Claire Denis has managed to pack into it. Initially, I felt that I had more questions than answers after watching it, but one thing remained without question: I wanted to watch it again. I needed to understand what compelled Shane and Coré toward cannibalism.

The film’s texture and tactility really stuck with me.  Even after I’d managed to piece together the events of the film and work out some kind of linear structure, I couldn’t get over certain images. They stayed with me for days. From the very opening of the film, the warmth of body heat and breathing sets the tone as we watch two people making out in a car. So much about the movie involves the sense of touch, and the texture of the visuals really help develop this and connect audiences with that sense. Trouble Every Day is a sexual movie, but it’s using sex as a grand experience of touching, closeness and connectedness. 

It’s hard not to get lost in the bodies on screen as the camera slowly moves across them at such a close range. At times, we’re unable to distinguish one body from another, and like the closeup shots of body parts, these pieces of them become visceral and grimey. From the zits and hairs to the bathwater and bloodsoaked walls, Denis makes no attempt to beautify or polish the images. They’re depicted in such detail that it reminded me of seeing an eyebrow through a microscope. Even outside of the coital close-ups, much of the camera work during regular conversations zooms in such that you can almost make out people’s pores. Rather than showing a glossed over and heavily made up actor, we’re shown normalcy.

Even the blood on the walls of Coré’s house has a texture that is typically lacking from other films—there’s different shades and thicknesses, almost like the house itself is bleeding and these are its lacerations.

My main question coming away from the film is: what drives Shane, an American man honeymooning in Paris with his wife June, and Coré, Dr. Leo Semeneau’s wife, toward their apparently irresistible urge to fuck and eat people? The film shows these carnal urges taken to the most extreme degree. Loads of cannibal stories work with the notion that once you’ve done it, you can’t simply stop. Earnest explorations of this can be found in Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Motel Hell (1980), We Are What We Are (2010), among others. Whether it’s implied that a recipe’s success hinges on the choice of meat, or if it’s more explicitly stating that once you start you just can’t stop, the idea that cannibals are addicted remains. Even It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia parodied this in the episode “Mac and Dennis: Manhunters.” 

So it could be that they did it once and then couldn’t help themselves from doing it more and more, but the question remains: what made Shane and Coré do this the first time? While never explicitly stated, it’s clear that some experimentation caused their transition. As Shane attempts to track down Leo, he encounters several scientists, and we’re shown flashbacks from before the two of them became cannibals. One of the scientists Shane meets (Dr. Friessen) seems to blame Shane for what happened to him and Coré, as well as the exiling of Leo from the scientific community, calling Shane a greedy thief who rushed experimentation in unethical ways in hopes of generating a profit quickly. “Semeneau was against experimenting on human beings, and you knew it,” she tells him.

Shortly after this, we’re privy to a flashback in which Leo pleads in vain with his superior for more time to work out the problems of the experiment—this scene is also the only time we hear Coré speak. It’s notable that Coré speaks here, because it shows us how different she had been prior to these experiments, even after the unexpected side effects. She was at one time a conflicted cannibal, presumably trying to suppress and prevent acting on her urges. In the present time, she’s far more animalistic in nature. Leo cages her, and she expresses herself through tough and non-verbal sounds: grunting, sighing, screaming. Coré’s affliction has progressed (or regressed) so much further than Shane’s, as demonstrated by these flashes and her inability to control herself. 

Leo continues to work on a cure for Coré. He hands her some pills just before leaving for work and locking up her room, but Coré throws them away. We’re never explicitly told what these pills are, but it’s clear that they’re connected to her condition, possibly some attempt at a suppressant. That she throws them away indicates how much her urges have control over her, unlike Shane who we see taking pills and who spends much of the film seeking Leo’s help.

I wonder to what extent Shane and Coré’s condition has created a pheromonal draw towards them, and what role this plays in their ability to attract new sexual partners. In the first encounter we see Coré have, the truck driver walks directly towards her. He resembles a zombie, almost. He’s staring blankly at her as he walks with purpose in her direction. In a much clearer instance of this, there’s the young would-be burglar who breaks into the room Coré has been locked in. While these both could be read as horny man gonna horny man, I think this sequence with Coré fucking on screen is much more telling. She begins biting the young man, and he screams out, but he doesn’t resist. He could have tried to push her off of him, but he didn’t. He screams and flails some, but also lays back and lets her continue to rip apart his face and neck and shoulders with her teeth, licking his blood, kissing his face and playing with his skin. 

Similarly, there’s the scene on the bus when Shane creeps up on a woman, sniffing her hair, and pressing against her. Neither the subject of his advances nor a woman witnessing it seem distressed; they’re just kind of taking it in and letting it happen. Shane seems to draw the people he’s most interested in towards him. Most notably we see this in Christelle, the hotel maid. She’s always kind of lurking around Shane’s room and spending more time in there than is strictly necessary. The most resistance we see from any of the victims comes from Christelle, but that resistance is stilted and lacking in substance. She pulls away lightly and engages tentatively, but once again, when Shane begins eating her, she screams and lays back without making much of a physical attempt to free herself from his grasp.

I’m also intrigued by Shane and Coré’s responses to acting on their urges, which are very different. After killing Christelle, Shane carries on with his day, like he’s just taken care of some kind of chore. Meanwhile, Coré exists in some kind of daze. This really speaks to the differences in the progression of their condition. Shane remains rational, cleaning up his mess and hoping not to get caught; whereas Coré revels in the brutality, plays with the scraps and waits patiently for Leo to arrive and take care of the mess she’s made, almost like a cat that’s just killed a mouse or bird and leaves it for their owner. She’s also much more childlike in her reaction. Especially in the beginning, when Leo has caught her in the field, it’s clear that she knows she’s done something wrong, but she’s got a look on her face like that of a toddler who’s been caught drawing with crayons on the walls or something similarly silly. 

Coré has entirely succumbed to her condition, seemingly uninterested in changing, which makes me think she’s less inclined to feel bad about what she’s done. Whereas Shane, who’s clearly still hiding this side of himself from June, is more interested in keeping to the shadows, so to speak. He represses as much as he can, and when he no longer can, he makes sure that he can hide the evidence himself. Coré has a caretaker in Leo; Shane has an unintrusive supporter in June.

Leo has chosen the punitive method. He cleans up after Coré, but also won’t engage with her. They don’t speak to each other, and he doesn’t reciprocate Coré’s romantic advances. Beyond that, he attempts to imprison her in their home, which doesn’t work. Like a child sent to their room for doing something wrong, she plots her next escape and goes over the missteps that lead to her getting caught.

Leo also tends to distance himself from Core when she reaches out to him, standing with his back turned, pulling himself away from her embrace. When he does reciprocate, it’s clear that he’s just maneuvering her into the bed so that he can leave her there. He’s frustrated, and that’s clear.

Conversely, June doesn’t make these restrictions on Shane. It seems possible that she knows more than she’s letting on, but instead of challenging him constantly or sneaking around behind him, she makes herself available to him when he needs her, is supportive, and in love. There are some indicators that she knows at least a little, but maybe not to the very extent that they’ve progressed. For example, when Shane is standing over her in the bath, he’s staring at her and she’s seemingly unaware of his presence. When she notices him, he asks, “Are you frightened?” That’s an odd question for someone in a good relationship to ask. She tells him she is not, then crawls into his arms. As he’s rubbing her arms, their attention is drawn to a bite mark on her arm. He rubs it, and she smiles faintly. Maybe she’s excited by the prospect of adding a bit of kink to their sex life. 

The differences in treatment of Shane and Coré by their partners immediately calls to mind how different genders are treated socially (or intimately). Leo keeps Coré locked up in a room and (attempts) to thoroughly police her movements. Shane on the other hand is completely free to do as he wishes. While this does make me think about how women had historically been treated, particularly women with (or accused of having) mental health issues, I think the more pertinent key to these differences is that Leo is well aware of what Coré does, whereas June knows very little of Shane’s impulses. It is clear that both Leo and June love their partners very much, especially in that Leo cleans up Coré’s messes and June is so starry-eyed every time she interacts with Shane—she’s very forgiving of his creepy behavior.

June takes on the more traditional role of a quiet and tolerant wife, which enables Shane to maintain some level of humanity, exist in society, and recognize for himself that he needs Leo’s help. While neither of these approaches work perfectly, it seems like June’s quiet support may have been ideal. Unfortunately, Shane was unable to find Leo before his ability to restrain himself entirely eroded.

During the scene with Shane talking to Friessen, he claims that he was attracted to Coré back then; he wishes they had been lovers. When they see each other for the first time in years, Shane has just broken into Coré’s house, and she’s covered in blood and stumbling around in a haze. She notices him and pauses for a beat. It almost feels like she’s ashamed, nodding and looking down as she walks away. She begins playing with a box of matches and ultimately the room catches on fire. Finally, Shane and Coré embrace. She excitedly squeezes Shane, kissing and pulling at him. I’m curious what may have happened had this interaction become sexual. It doesn’t seem like she’s necessarily interested in hurting him, much the way it’s clear she doesn’t want to hurt Leo. Similarly, Shane never wants to hurt June. So I’m wondering if it is possible for either of them to have sex without attacking whoever they’re with. In any case, he becomes violent with her, forcefully pushing her back for a second, then grabbing her neck and choking her, ultimately leaving her body to burn in the fire she started.

I’m not entirely sure why he kills Coré. He sees how her affliction has progressed, so possibly kills her in terror of recognizing himself in her. Coré, being so far gone that she is entirely unable to control her urges, represents something he never wants for himself. Shane has managed throughout the film to suppress his urges, but here he finds Coré covered in blood and knows that this is his future. Coming face to face with the worst case scenario for himself, he can’t help but feel powerless to stop that trajectory. But he can take it out on her, so he kills her. Alternatively, this could be seen as a kind of mercy killing. Coré has devolved so much so that she’s almost not human anymore, so Shane may feel like this is what’s best for her.

I may have taken some liberties with interpretations. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about this film and finding out what others have said about it. What I can say for certain is that Trouble Every Day is something to behold and experience. It’s deceptively dense, and surprisingly captivating. You won’t want to look away, because during the most intense scenes, you’ll actually be drawn in by the camerawork and lighting. Film critic Elana Lazic noted how visually dark the film is, forcing you to really focus and work out what’s happening—even when you know you’re going to be upset by what you’re seeing. This experience resembles what Coré and Shane’s victims experience—we’re drawn in, unsure of where it’s going, but it doesn’t bode well. Nevertheless, I recommend you lean in, discover the images in the film. It’s worth it.

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