A title reads, “Eight years later.” We see a man cycling through the streets. He wears white linen on his head, shoulders, and loins, as well as, hanging from his neck, a rectangular box with black and white diagonal stripes and a keyhole. We cut to an apartment. The same woman as before (who had her eye cut) is sitting reading, apparently unharmed. She looks up, startled by something. She throws her book onto the table, leaving it open on a page showing Johannes Vermeer’s painting The Lacemaker. Sitting by the book is a mouse in a cage. The woman looks out the window, and, seeing the cyclist, responds with successive looks of shock and frustration. From above, we see the cyclist collapse to his side, making no effort to stay upright on his bicycle. The woman mouths what appear to be curses of frustration at him. As the man lies on the street, expressionless, she walks down to meet him.
This time, upon seeing him in the street, her expression is of compassion, and she goes to kiss and embrace him. The film dissolves to a shot of the striped box. We see the woman’s hand open it with a key and pull out striped tissue paper. We then find ourselves back in the apartment, where the woman takes a striped tie out of the tissue paper and lays it on a bed, together with the box and the white linens the man had been wearing. She places them as though they were to be worn by someone on the bed. She sits by the bed, observing these items.
Suddenly, as though by magic, the tie appears perfectly tied around the collar on the bed. The woman turns around to see the same man examining his hand. The film cuts to his point of view, and we see ants crawling out of a hole in his hand. The woman approaches him, appearing fascinated, and they exchange glances. A shot of the man’s hand, again with the ants, dissolves into a shot of the armpit of a woman lying on a beach, which in turn dissolves into a shot of a sea urchin, which in turn dissolves into a iris shot looking down on someone in the street, poking a severed hand with a stick.
The iris shot opens onto a throng of men in hats encircling the same figure with the stick. Police attempt to hold the men back from the figure—dressed in a gender non-conforming way—who continues to manipulate the hand. The man and woman look down upon the figure from their balcony (the same balcony, it appears, as in the scene with the sliced eyeball). The man is visibly excited by what he sees. Down below, a policeman picks up the severed hand, places it in the box with diagonal stripes, and hands it to the androgynous figure, who embraces it. The crowd disperses, leaving the androgynous figure alone in the street. The figure stares off, blankly, holding the box, as cars pass by, until they are hit by one of them.
Throughout this time, the man has been watching the figure anxiously from the window. After the latter is hit by the car, the man turns to the woman, appearing aroused. He corners her and grabs her breasts, which suddenly appear as nude, and then—as the man salivates from his mouth—as nude buttocks. The woman runs away from her assaulter, and he chases her throughout the room. She protects herself with a tennis racquet against the man, who is first frustrated, and then relieved to find two pieces of rope on the floor—only to find as he pulls the pieces that they are attached to two large slabs, two melons, two Marist Brothers, and two grand pianos loaded with the rotting carcasses of two donkeys. The film cuts to the face of one of the donkeys, blood dripping out of its eyes. Throughout the woman appears horrified, hiding her face in the corner of the room. Finally, she escapes out a nearby door, though the man’s hand manages to make it past the door, and she again sees it crawling with ants. As she struggles to close the door against him, she notices across the room the very same man, only this time on the bed wearing the linens, tie, and box she had earlier laid there. As she looks on in confusion, he looks up mischievously, as though having gotten away with something.
The severed hand continues the film’s trope, initiated with the sliced eye, of mysterious and unexplained trauma to the human body. Since the figure (a gender non-conforming figure dressed in the garçonne style of the 1920s) is surrounded by a crowd of people, this scene also continues the film’s association, established in the sliced-eyeball scene, between trauma and spectatorship. We will later in the film see a crowd surround a dead or injured body in a similar fashion. Before the crowd (which has formed a circle, inviting comparison with the hole in the man’s hand, the woman’s armpit, and the sea urchin) disperses, a policeman hands the gender non-conforming figure the striped box to place the severed hand inside—the very same box we had seen just a moment ago in the apartment.
Indeed, the film continues its association between spectatorship and trauma as the man and the woman (the same as earlier in the film) watch from their window (above the same balcony as in the film’s first scene) as the gender non-conforming figure is run over by a car. They are evidently in the position of voyeurs, as the man is visibly aroused by what he sees, initiating his sexual assault of the woman in the apartment.
During the series of a dissolves in the course of the man's assault on the woman we see her bare breasts, and then bare buttocks, suggesting that we are seeing her body from his imagination. As he chases her around the apartment, we have our first comprehensive shot of the apartment and its mise-en-scène. She defends herself with a tennis racquet in the corner, and, after some frustration, the man looks resourcefully at two pieces of rope on the floor. But rather than provide resources for him in his attack, these pieces of rope are in fact attached to absurd burdens: two slabs, two melons, two Marist Brothers—perhaps suggesting that something about his punishing super-ego is what is holding him back in his attack—and two rotting donkey corpses on top of two grand pianos. As the woman escapes the man through the door and he sticks his hand through it, we again see the ants crawling on his hand, though this time more copiously than before, suggesting a kind of progression or growth in their number. Upon escaping him in the next room she sees him there again—implausibly, lying on the bed wearing the linens and the box exactly as she had laid them there earlier. He has the mischievous look of someone who has gotten away with something. If we take these scenes as symbolic of domestic drama, the irony is that the man has now materialized in just the way the woman seemed to hope for as she laid out the items: but in this instance, in order to torment her.