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Shudder Secrets: Teddy Explained: Rise Up, Proletariat Werewolf!

Leave it to the French to make an incredibly unique werewolf movie that rises above the pack. Written and directed by Ludovic Buokherma and Zoran Boukherma, Teddy contains echoes of French history, influence from the New French Extremity Movement, and metaphors about class division and ideological shifts. The film strikes a delicate balance, containing both weighty symbolism and plenty of humor.

Meet Down and Out Teddy

Teddy takes place in a sleepy French town. Things turn strange after folks find mutilated cattle and hear wolves howling late at night. The film works so well, in part, because of Anthony Bajon’s performance as the lead. He’s an underdog who gets bitten by a werewolf in the woods outside his foster home. Initially, it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for his character. Teddy works as a temp in a massage parlor. He gives foot massages to the small town’s mayor and fends off intense sexual advances from his boss, Chislaine (Noémie Lvovsky). At one point, she pins him to a massage table and sexually assaults him. She also has him unclog filthy toilets and mop floors. No matter how bad your first job was, it doesn’t compare to the abuse Teddy suffers.

Teddy never attended high school and instead cares for his invalid foster mom. No great future awaits him. The opening scene features a WWII memorial to fallen men. As a soldier belts out the French anthem, Teddy starts laughing. It’s not quite clear why he does this. Maybe he thinks the romanticization of the past is absurd when you consider the present and his own dire situation. Maybe he finds the off-beat singing funny. He then disrupts the service because the organizers have a different iteration of the spelling of his great-grandfather’s last name. Even if Teddy mocks romanticized history, he still glorifies his great-grandfather’s role in it. His great-grandfather was the manly sort of hero Teddy can’t be.

Teddy’s Lack of Sexual Agency

Teddy’s only salvation is his girlfriend, Rebecca (Christine Gautier). While things seem okay at first, it’s evident that she’s not going to stay with him. Rebecca is college-bound and comes from a world separate from Teddy’s, one where the kids attend good schools and their parents have large houses. Teddy’s merely something to bide her time, a summer fling before she fully accepts that she’s upper-class and he’s merely a distraction, a boy toy to fend of boredom.

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courtesy of Shudder

Time and time again, Teddy’s sexual agency is non-existent. Rebecca is more advanced and skilled than he is. She even jokes that she can guess a man’s penis size by the space between his eyes. She also tells Teddy that she doesn’t orgasm when they have sex, making it known he can’t provide her full satisfaction.  As already noted, Teddy is powerless against his boss and later humiliated further when a group of drunk men come to the massage parlor and pay him off to wax one of their friend’s, well, less than savory body parts.

In another scene, Teddy fumbles performing oral sex on Rebecca and hurts her. She pulls away and rebukes his further attempts. Sure, this occurs because his tongue grows hair, but it underscores how bumbling he is when it comes to sex and stereotypical masculine traits. He rarely, if ever, leads.

Additionally, some of the stellar body transformation scenes occur after his dour sexual experiences. The hair tongue scene (which he shaves) is one example. In another sequence, Teddy stumbles home late at night, most likely after fully transforming. His experience is coded in rape imagery. Nearly naked, he tells his foster relative Pepin (Ludovic Torrent) that he can’t remember what happened and recalls being pushed in the dirt, rolling around in it, as if someone else did it to him.

Teddy and Rebecca Are Worlds Apart

Teddy is also a dreamer, despite his daily suffering at the hands of those above him. He clings to notions of a middle-class lifestyle, that he will somehow rise above his lot in life. At one point, he drags Rebecca to a barren plot of land. He tells her that they’ll one day build a house, have a 30-year mortgage, and maybe a kid. However, she ignores most of what he says and tells him about a party a classmate is having.

Several scenes later, she takes him to said party, and their class divide is stark. Rebecca fits in well with the yuppy kids. She poses with them for a photo, and Teddy is shown standing away from them, separated, even as he takes the photo. One of the students, Benjamin (Guillaume Mattera), constantly berates Teddy and his lack of schooling, leading to a fight. He can’t believe Rebecca gives him the time of day.

Before Rebecca dumps Teddy, he rambles on again about the future he wants with her. After summer, they can save for a house, even while she attends college. He’s certain he’ll be a big boss man. This fantasy lingers in his mind, until she dashes his dreams, even as he drops to his knees and begs her to stay. This is Rebecca’s final shift, her turn away from Teddy and her ascent to the upper-class. She tells him that he’s stuck in place and she never loved him as much as he loves her. Further, she already has access to a secure future, and she doesn’t need him to make it happen for her.

Courtesy of Shudder

Teddy’s Transformation and a Grim Future

When Teddy channels his inner wolf, specifically the animal’s predatory nature, he takes on negative masculine qualities. He stalks Rebecca, watching her and Benjamin have sex in her bedroom. In a reversal from the earlier scene, he pins Chislaine to a massage table and bites off her tongue.

During a bingo fundraiser near the conclusion, Teddy slaughters all of Rebecca’s classmates, including Benjamin. There are two important symbols during this sequence. The students are seated under a banner that says, “To the future.” Meanwhile, Rebecca sports a shirt with cherubs. Typically, this is easy to dismiss. It’s just a shirt, right? But the shirt’s cherub imagery mirrors paintings common during the Rococo art movement. This late 17th Century/early 18th Century movement marked an important class shift. Art moved inside the homes of the upper-class, ushering in a period of excess. It makes sense Rebecca would wear such a shirt since, by this point, she aligns herself with her wealthy classmates. Her shirt then symbolizes her ideological change.

Yet, what does it mean if these students are seated under a banner “To the future” and Teddy kills all of them? He destroys whatever futures they wanted, and he too is killed. When police surround his home after the massacre, Pepin shoots him and then cries over his dead body. Rebecca survives, shocked by the incident.

The film opens with a memorial to WWII soldier. It concludes with the youth wiped out and a failed proletariat rebellion. If anything, it’s a grim statement on France’s class struggles after the recent Yellow Jacket Movement. Teddy’s killings aren’t the answer, but opportunities for him are few. He’s tormented and degraded by everyone above him.

Is There Some Hope, or Is It Fantasy?

The credit scene leans into the surreal. Teddy and Rebecca dance. Yet, because there are red curtains in the background, it’s unlikely this is reality. It’s too theatrical and such a shift in tone from the rest of the film, a figment, more of a dream sequence. It’s pure fantasy of what could have been, no matter the class divide. Rebecca is the last character shown prior to his, watching an ambulance haul Teddy’s body away. Maybe this image played in her head, or maybe it was always Teddy’s imagination. Regardless, at least in this sequence, they’re together. The reality is much harsher.

Overall, Teddy has some familiar werewolf imagery. Teddy’s transformation represents changes to his body. But more so, the film uses a familiar monster to comment on France’s past and uncertain future, specifically, the bubbling class tension exemplified by the Yellow Jacket uprisings. With smart humor, the film also asks, what happens when you tear everything down, as Teddy attempts to do? What future remains?

Teddy premiers on Shudder Today August 5.