Irréversible (2002)

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Movie Review
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Irréversible (2002)

Director: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel

To know our own future, it would drive us mad. Where would the fun be in knowing what you’re about to do, before you do it? Even worse would be knowing that something life-altering was just around the corner, and it’s a fixed point in time. If you looked at it from a certain perspective, what is to come has already happened… we just haven’t read that chapter of our lives yet. Discussion on the subject of premonitions does take place in “Irréversible,” yet it is not the characters who know the horrors that await them. That honor… if you can call it that… is bestowed upon the audience. In the style of “Memento” (2000), “Irréversible” is told in reverse chronological order. If it were presented in a more straightforward manner, it would be an all-together different movie. I bring this up not to tell you that the scenes of violence are more bearable because we get them out of the way early on, or because we know they are coming. They aren’t. Even if that were the case, knowing what will become of these people is not the point. We are instead invited to consider how they get there, how easily avoidable their actions which lead them to their fates could have been, and also the dangers of exacting personal revenge.

Outside of a gay nightclub called “The Rectum” (lovely name, yes?) two men are being escorted out, one in handcuffs and the other on a stretcher. Pierre (Albert Dupontel) is the one being arrested, and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) is the man with a broken arm who is on his way to the hospital. The two came there in search of a man known only as “Le Tenia” (“The Tapeworm”) whom they have learned is the person responsible for raping Alex (Monica Bellucci), Pierre’s ex-girlfriend who is now in a relationship with Marcus. They find someone they think is the guilty party, and that man breaks Marcus’s arm and attempts to rape him before being killed by Pierre with a fire extinguisher.

Under any normal circumstances, a rape scene is easily one of the hardest things to watch that a movie can present. At least with both versions of “I Spit on Your Grave” there are certain camera cuts that go on during these long, protracted sequences. “Irréversible” is more unrelenting. The moment seems to last forever, and that’s thanks in large part to the camera never moving away from the action. I don’t know how any actress is able to mentally prepare for performing a scene of this kind. What Monica Bellucci puts herself through is more than any actress should ever have to in front of a camera.

After all of the sex and violence, the most brutal assault of all is reserved for us. As I have said, the camera remains stationary during the rape scene. In much of the first half of “Irreversible,” it does not. Representing the metaphor of life spiraling out of control, the camera remains in constant motion, sometime spinning around, most notably during the section in the gay club. I figured it was going to be like this for the entire film, but the later scenes (the stuff that chronologically happens first) are peaceful and serene by comparison, and they are shot accordingly. That is, right up until the very end, where the camera goes into overdrive and the last thirty seconds are nothing but a strobe light. Either look away or just stop the movie at this point. Epileptics will no doubt seize up. Others will just get a splitting headache.

I can finally cross “Irréversible” off my shortlist of notorious films which I’ve been meaning to see. Most of the others which previously shared space on that list were never so deliberately artistic. If it weren’t for the reverse chronology that “Irréversible” uses, the movie would be only an ordinary story with a disturbing, nihilistic ending. Beginning with the horror and showing how life walks a thin line between normalcy and utter chaos lifts this one up a bit. The movie is deserving of its reputation… it is like that plate of hot wings which you have to wear latex gloves and sign a waiver form in order to eat them… but I’ve been more deeply affected by other French films (see my “Martyrs” (2008) review for an example). Although I can appreciate what director Gaspar Noé was doing here, I come away with no real desire to revisit this one.

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