Vomit-Eating Teenagers and Dead Dogs: Cannes Highlights Why Movies Need More Trigger Warnings

The disturbing thriller “Club Zero” that played at Cannes will divide audiences and critics with a scene of a teen eating vomit, but director Jessica Hausner gets one crucial thing right: It starts with a trigger warning for attendees, stating that the film features scenes regarding eating disorders. Of course, there will be many opinions on the auteur’s execution and theme, but in the same way her villainous lead character promotes “conscious eating,” Hausner delivered a “conscious warning.”

This practice should become the norm for content, whether movies or television. Not only should an advisory be shown at the beginning, but marketing departments should brainstorm ways to include it on posters, trailers and other campaigns. We, and studios, cannot rely solely on the MPAA rating system to inform viewers of brutal scenes that could be triggering. “Club Zero” involves scenes and topics of bulimia, while many other films and shows casually depict scenes featuring rape, school shootings and more.

Austrian auteur Hausner, whose six previous features screened at Cannes, wrote the movie with Géraldine Bajard. It tells the story of a nutrition teacher named Miss Novak (Mia Wasikowska), who starts a new job at an elite prep school and begins helping her students to “eat consciously.” However, her calm and warm demeanor takes a troubling turn as she coaches them toward removing food entirely from their diet to be healthier and save the environment.

The dark dramedy generated quite a response when it screened for critics and audiences at Monday night’s premiere. The first half features dry wit and dark humor, which garnered laughs from attendees. But midway through a scene showing a teenager forcing herself to vomit onto an empty plate, making eye contact with her parents who watch in horror, she consumes the waste she just released.

You could hear the groans filling the room during the brief moments.

I could barely keep one eye open during the intense segment, doing my best to keep my acai bowl from lunch in my stomach.

The topic surrounding the importance of trigger warnings has been discussed often in recent years, especially in this age of streaming and digital content that’s increasingly easier for consumers, particularly children, to access.

In the television world, the subject came up during the run of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” that showed scenes involving incest and rape. Netflix’s teenage drama series “13 Reasons Why” was criticized for a graphic scene involving teen suicide, sparking a backlash from multiple advocacy groups and viewers.

In the film world, the discussion continues to percolate in movies that sometimes catch viewers off-guard.

Aside from “Club Zero,” another competition film, “Black Flies,” starring Tye Sheridan and Sean Penn as two New York EMT medics who encounter several bloody and disturbing scenarios, did not prepare viewers for dead babies or dogs. The dark and gritty flick directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire shows plenty of severed limbs, abused wives and other dangers an emergency responder might encounter. One scene shows a dog being ruthlessly shot in the head, with its bloody remains shoved into a locker. Another scene shows a lifeless baby on a bed, next to its placenta, after the drug-addicted mother gives birth.

While the performances are strong in both films, many were left stunned.

And we can’t chalk this up to just independent cinema, as big-budget blockbusters have the same type of shock value.

Unless you’re a renowned historian or currently taking a medieval French course, you may not know the story of the duel between Sir Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris that was depicted in Ridley Scott’s period epic “The Last Duel” (2021) with Matt Damon and Adam Driver in the roles. With the marketing focusing on the battle sequences, casual moviegoers might have been surprised when two of three “perspectives” showing events that preceded the fight depict Marguerite de Carrouges, played by Jodie Comer, being raped by Driver’s character. Anyone with previous trauma or strong reactions to seeing it on film was put off, to say the least.

As politics become increasingly divisive, and even the Academy’s inclusion and diversity standards are criticized by people like Richard Dreyfuss, there seems to be a growing impatience for sensitivity and compassion for those who may require it. If the title card at the beginning of “Club Zero” helps achieve that, the film fulfilled its purpose.

“Club Zero” and “Black Flies” are seeking distribution after their Cannes premieres.

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