It involves being sewn up in a dead horse.
Note: this post, written by Trey Hillburn, originally appeared at Birth.Movies.Death.
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One of the best things to come out of Fantastic Fest last year had to have been the mesmerizing, Julia Ducournau directed film, RAW. The coming-of-age story, with cannibalistic sensibilities, centers around Justine, a young woman who attends a French veterinary school, where she begins a horrifyingly beautiful journey to self-discovery. The film takes Justine away from her parental safety net and thrusts her into an intensely competitive and wildly-deviant scholastic environment.
After RAW screened, it left the audience with plenty to think about, particularly regarding the veterinary school itself, and the way its hazing was portrayed. It goes further than being forced to chug a couple of brewski’s down and say the alphabet backward while standing on one leg. These students get pretty brutal with their traditions and rites of passage.
As extreme as it was, it wasn’t the first time I had heard about French-based veterinary academia, being this crazy. Author Chuck Palahniuk, (FIGHT CLUB, LULLABY) had done a book tour a few years back in support of his novel, HAUNTED. In typical Palahniuk fashion, he would share stories and anecdotes that sort of resemble life lessons under the right light. While handing out autographed plastic severed legs and arms to random fans, he shared a story that directly dealt with some pretty goretastic details involving France and their veterinary programs.
Palahniuk explained that during one of his tours, he was approached by a soft-spoken, well-dressed young fan that informed him he was from France and a Veterinarian who had gone through the ringer in some bizarre veterinary hazing.
The fan told Palahniuk that he was part of the Academy of Veterinary Sciences and decided to share a story that involved a party his advisors had thrown for him. He explained that after drinking tons of booze, and possibly being dosed with ketamine (like one does), he ended up passing out. Once he was out, his peers stripped him of his clothes and stuffed him into the torso of a gutted-dead horse on one of the veterinary lab tables. When this poor dude eventually woke up he found himself totally confused about where he was, freezing and terrified. He immediately began struggling to get out of the encasement.
Unbeknownst to him, all of his professors and fellow graduate students were gathered around the dead horse watching. This poor fella told Palahniuk that he remembered pressing, shoving and clawing to get out the cold, smelly space. He said at his most terrified moment, he started to hear voices and yelling coming from outside, screaming things that were somewhere between insult and encouragement. Some voices calling him names and some telling him to fight to escape.
When he eventually managed to break one of his hands free through the horse’s loosely-stitched up underbelly, someone placed a large glass of wine in the palm of his hand. After slipping his slimy body out of the horse’s torso, the room began to cheer and raise their glasses to him. Turns out everyone in that room who had managed to make it through the intense school year had gone through the exact ritual. He told Palahniuk that the point of all of it was to give the graduates a yardstick to measure future on-the-job struggles. He said that no matter how many kitties or puppies die on you, no matter how dark and stressful things get, it will never be as bad as waking up inside of a dead horse.
I haven’t personally met anyone yet who has attended France’s Veterinary schools, but now I really want to. I’m sort of fascinated with the idea now. It can’t be a coincidence that Palahniuk’s story and RAWs exploration involve intense hazing aspects of the same world.