Elle is the French movie adaptation of the novel “Oh..”. Paul Verhoeven is the director who brought us the old school hits like Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct etc. Elle is a French film which sees Isabelle Huppert in the lead role. The film is a bit of a punch-in-the-face every now and then and you constantly are thinking “What?” “Really?” .. but in an “I’m still interested and would like to continue” sort of way. Enough of this ramble, let’s get to the plot. Do check the film out before you read. Here’s the French film Elle explained, spoilers ahead!
The movie starts with the sexual assault of Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle) by a person in a ski mask. But surprisingly, the film is not about her finding her assailant and getting revenge. It’s about a whole bunch of characters that are trying really hard to live their lives normally given the variety of crap each one is going through.
Let’s begin with the characters and their relationships.
Michèle – she is an independent, successful woman who runs a Video Game company. She is the central character in the story.
Dad – Michèle’s past involves her psychopath dad. He once killed many people and involved his unsuspecting daughter Michèle (who was 10 years old at the time) in burning down their own house. He’s been in jail since. Unfortunately, someone takes a photo of her (right after the burning incident) and her empty stare during the incident. This continues to remain in people’s minds.
Irène – Michèle’s mother. She’s a lady who pays to be with younger men and satisfies her physical cravings.
Richard – Michèle’s ex-husband. He too appears to be unsuccessful in life and a failed writer. Their marriage has ended because Richard hits her.
Vincent – Michèle’s son. Seems to be useless and is unable to keep a straight job. He needs the help of his mother to survive.
Josie – Vincent’s girlfriend who’s shown to be cheating on him. She’s assertive and the baby she’s carrying is not Vincent’s. It seems to be the baby of their black friend. Two shades darker than both her and Vincent.
Patrick – This is the neighbour dude. He’s the guy who has a thing for sexual assaults. He’s the guy behind the ski mask. This is disclosed later in the film. He can’t get it up unless he’s in the role play of an assault. Michèle initially doesn’t know that he is the attacker. She’s shown to be sexually attracted to Patrick.
Rebecca – This is Patrick’s wife. She’s a devout Catholic woman who’s in an unhappy marriage with Patrick because he’s got issues. She is also aware that Patrick is cheating on her and knows it is with Michèle. This is disclosed in the end.
Anna – Michèle’s business partner at the firm. The two of them seem to have had one sexual encounter in the past. Anna suspects her husband to be sleeping with another woman.
Robert – Anna’s husband. Michèle is having an affair with him behind Anna’s back.
Kurt – Is a smug programmer in Michèle’s company. He’s shown to hate her but is one of their top programmers. He is suspected to have created an animated version of Michèle getting sexually assaulted by a monster.
Kevin – Is another employee in Michèle’s company who seems to be infatuated with Michèle. He creates the animation of Michèle but doesn’t intend to circulate it. The animation gets stolen from his PC and leaked.
Well, those are the crazies in this story. You see, each of them has something messed up going on in their lives. All of the characters ignore their respective situations and try to live a regular life.
Michèle doesn’t inform the cops about her assault and is focused on getting her new video game out. She does not want to attract the attention of the media or cops during this time. She tells Robert, Anna, and Richard about the incident though.
Richard’s failure as a writer and being broke is introduced here. Him trying to live a normal life and constantly look for some venue to become successful is shown. One of his ideas is rejected by Michèle’s clients and he continues to struggle. Richard is seeing a young girl (Hélène) but there’s nothing there. They break up soon enough. Hélène thinks she’s reading Richard’s books (and loving them) and it turns out to be another guy’s books. Funny no?
Michèle lives in public hate. The scene in the cafe where a lady drops her food on Michèle shows just that. The lady still hates Michèle and her father for the murders. Michèle’s estranged relationship with her mother is soon disclosed along with her mother’s interest in younger men. Michèle’s psycho father has a parole hearing coming up. People (like the lady in the cafe) are being reminded about the whole mass-murder incident because of the parole hearing.
Vincent’s struggle with his life and job comes next. His girlfriend is shown to be using him for support. Josie’s guilt is never displayed given that it’s not Vincent’s baby that she’s carrying. Vincent’s weak and doesn’t stand up for himself. He goes about life as if everything is dandy.
An animation which shows Michèle being sexually assaulted by a monster is circulated at work. She still decides she is not going to go to the cops. She is done with the cops and media as the whole incident with her father seems to have consumed her younger life.
Josie and Vincent have their baby. We are soon shown that the baby is not Vincent’s. Everyone can see this. No one mentions anything about it. They all go on about normally. Vincent too has ignored the obvious and is extremely thrilled about being a father.
Patrick, the neighbour, is now shown to be making up stories about a prowler that he has fought off. Patrick is the prowler. He acts like he’s checking the house to make sure it’s safe. And that Michèle is safe. Michèle’s and Patrick’s attraction towards each other is shown here.
At work, Michèle asks Kevin to spy on people’s activities to find out who the creator of the animation is. In reality, it is Kevin who has created the animation but we aren’t told this yet.
Michèle throws a Christmas party inviting a few select people. He mother Irène shows up uninvited with her young male “friend”, Ralf. Michèle is shown to be extremely rude towards him and her mother. She also seduces Patrick during dinner. Irène has a massive stroke in the party and collapses. Before going into a coma, Irène tells Michèle to go meet her father. After that Irène dies in the hospital.
Anna gives Michèle company for the night. Here they discuss their little sexual encounter from the past.
Patrick and Michèle
Later, Patrick comes to help Michèle close her window shutters. Just as they are about to get physical Patrick leaves. We’re made to believe that he doesn’t want to cheat on his wife. But the reality is far from that. He needs violence.
Later at work, Michèle finds out that Kevin is the one who’s created the animation. But she also makes Kevin strip to check if he’s circumcised. She knows her attacker was. Kevin is not her attacker.
Patrick returns with a ski mask and attacks Michèle. But this time Michèle stabs his hand with a pair of scissors and unmasks her attacker to realize that it was Patrick. He leaves. They don’t discuss this for a while.
Michèle goes to meet her father. Her father has hung himself to death knowing that she is visiting. He dies because he is unable to face his daughter. The media begins to reach out to Michèle as she’s driving back. Distracted by a deer, Michèle crashes her car. Yet again, she doesn’t call 911. She tries everyone and finally Patrick who shows up to help her. Why call Patrick knowing that he’s the one who assaulted her? Well, Michèle is attracted to Patrick and is in this strange situation with him. She is confused but sees no immediate threat as such.
Michèle sleeps one last time with Robert and calls off any future affairs with him. She’s done with the physical encounters with Robert.
Josie kicks Vincent out
Vincent gets kicked out by Josie as he quits his job. He takes the baby and comes home to Michèle’s place. Josie comes and gets her baby back. Later Michèle and Vincent go over to Patrick’s for dinner. Rebecca’s on a trip. Vincent falls asleep on the couch. Michèle and Patrick head to the basement and do a little role-play of him assaulting her. So their relationship gets weirder.
Next day, Anna tells Michèle that she knows Robert is sleeping with someone. Anna doesn’t know that it is with Michèle. Michèle acts like she has no clue.
In a swift clean sweep, Michèle fixes up just about every loose end for her and the people in her life. Now, it’s not like she plots all of it to come to a great culmination. She simply hits a point where she can’t deal with the way she is going about ignoring all of the crap happening to her and the people she knows. She takes a course of corrective actions to put things in their right place (right according to Michèle, not legally).
Both of Michèle’s parents are now dead. She fulfills her mother’s dying wish. She meets her dad who has already committed suicide. She gets closure from that. She kicks out Ralf from her mother’s place. She forgives Kevin the office animation issue. She checks to see if he was the attacker, and he was not. She ends the matter right there. Kurt, she commends for doing a great job with the game. He’s happy.
She puts Richard on to Kurt so he can work on his idea with Kurt and make something of his life and in the process may be chance upon the next hit game. Michèle confesses to Anna that she has been sleeping with Robert. She also mentions that it is over now. Anna confronts Robert and ends her relationship with him for cheating on her.
Did Michèle plan Patrick’s death?
Michèle confronts Patrick and tells him that what they share is sick and twisted. She also tells Patrick that he shouldn’t expect to get away with what he did. Michèle also finds it in her to be ready to go to the cops and tell them what has been happening. Patrick assaults Michèle again. And this time her son Vincent arrives and strikes the attacker. Patrick takes off his mask and drops dead. Patrick is confused because he thinks Michèle was merely role playing. But she wasn’t. She meant what she was saying. About ending it. Did she set up the situation on purpose so that Vincent could save her? We don’t know. I’m actually a little confused about that. If someone has an idea about this please comment below. There was nothing that Michèle tells Vincent that makes him leave the party early. But for some reason he does. He goes back home. He finds his mother being assaulted and strikes the attacker who happens to be Patrick. I believe this was just a turn of events and not something Michèle plans. However, that said, Michèle does take this opportunity to keep their twisted relationship a secret from the cops and everyone else. All she tells the cops is that she was getting closer to Patrick but could have never imagined that he was the attacker behind the ski mask.
Rebecca, after the ordeal, decides to sell her house and move on. Michèle meets with her shortly. Rebecca tells Michèle this – “Patrick was a good man but he had a tortured soul”. “I’m sincerely glad you could give him what he needed. For a time, at least”. This statement indicates that she knew about the sick relationship they shared. She too decided to stay quiet about it and didn’t go to the cops.
Vincent seems to have earned the respect of Josie for his heroic deed of saving his mother. Josie perhaps feels now that he would do the same for her and their baby. Anna finds it in her to somehow forgive Michèle for what she’s done. Robert seems to have become a drunkard, too bad for him. Anna decides she is selling off her huge house and wants to move in with Michèle for a while. The two reconcile and the film ends.
The ending leaves you with the question of – “what the hell was this film about?”. Well, as the director has mentioned, the film did not intend to have a generic message. It was merely the story and the actions taken by one woman based on the situations she found herself to be in. She is not good, she is not evil. She is merely human and chooses selfishly for herself and the people she opted to care for. She also got a little lucky else Vincent and she may have been behind bars for attempted murder.