Irreversible (Movie)

Irreversible (2002), by Gaspar Noe, has been on my ‘need to watch’ list for a long time and I finally got around to seeing it last week. Fair warning: if you don’t speak French, you will have to read subtitles… and some have found it to be an excessively brutal and disturbing film.

I don’t really know how to describe the film, other than to say that it presents the narritive of a woman being raped and brutally assaulted and then her boyfriend and a former lover attempt to take revenge on her rapist, but the entire story is told in chunks that are ordered backwards… so first we see the two main characters (Marcus and Pierre) being taken out of a gay S&M nightclub with the uncompromising name of ‘Rectum’ by the police — Marcus is on a stretcher and Pierre is in handcuffs. The next scene ‘chunk’ shows what happened right before that: Marcus and Pierre are searching the nightclub for a man known as ‘le Tenia.’ They find the man they think is ‘le Tenia’ and a fight ensues… Marcus gets his arm broken in the fight and Pierre beats the presumed ‘le Tenia’ to death with a fire extinguisher. Bit by bit, the film maker presents the story in chunks, each ‘chunk’ coming in reverse chronological order, so we see Pierre and Marcus discover that Alex has been raped as she is carried away by ambulance workers on a stretcher, we see the rape, we see the events at the party they attended that led up to Alex wanting to leave early, etc.

Not only is the film in reverse chronological order, but the scenes themselves are all composed of a single ‘take’ where the camera roves around at random at the beginning, then gradually settles on the main characters. The scene where Alex gets raped and then beaten into unconsciousness in a pedestrian underpass by ‘le Tenia’ is about 10 or 12 minutes long and appears to have been filmed with a single camera that just moves to follow the events (I subsequently discovered that many scenes were digitally ‘stitched’ together to make them appear as one long scene, but, if so, the effect is seamless). At the start of each scene the camera is moving around as if simply spinning freely through the air, showing the ceiling, the floor, the room, etc., in a manner that almost makes the viewer nauseous — I thought the director ‘overdid’ that particular effect, although with each scene the ‘free camera’ effect got less and less wild and shorter and shorter, so I suppose Noe was intending to show us how events had ‘spun further and further’ out of control as they progressed.

The film has been criticized for being excessively violent and disturbing, especially for the graphic rape scene and the scene where Pierre bashes in the head of the man he (wrongly assumes) assaulted the woman, Alex. Graphic sex and violence in films, however, are not deal breakers for me and while I feel it innappropriate to say that I ‘enjoyed’ the film (‘enjoy’ does not seem to be the right word), I found it very effective and would reccomend the film. I found the film making interesting enough, and the little details of the character’s lives compelling enough that I want to eventually watch it again. Not one for ‘family viewing,’ however.

Aside from what I thought were the excessively long ‘wandering eye’ camera shots, my only other complaint was that in one portion, a scene where ‘le Tenia’ held Alex down on the floor of the pedestrian underpass while beating her face with his fists didn’t quite look real to me. ‘Le Tenia’ appeared to be striking the air right next to the actresses’ face and the sounds of the impact were unconvincing… as if they were dubbed in. Obviously I don’t expect the actress to really be beaten into a coma in order to make the film convincing, but given how ‘hyper real’ everything else in the film appeared, a small detail like this really stood out as a flaw. Perhaps the beating didn’t work for me because I wasn’t prepared to accept the scene as ‘real.’ I don’t know.

I’m going to have to beg the question whether or not the violence in the film is ‘gratuitous’ or not, simply because I don’t know that I accept the majority’s definition of ‘gratuitous sex and violence.’ In the case of Irreversible, however, I think the director made a conscious decision to make certain scenes as explicit and disturbing as possible. Since the violence comes early in the film, and afterwards we only see what leads up to it, the film is much more about observing the events in these people’s lives that led up to this horrible series of encounters.

One Comment on “Irreversible (Movie)”

  1. limpey says:

    I think it would have been an uninteresting film if it proceeded in the standard order (start to finish rather than finish to start). But since we were seeing each scene followed by what preceeded it, I found myself more interested in seeing how what happened in this scene led to the scene I had just seen. It was interesting to me that first we see Pierre beating someone to death and after that we see what happened just before (Marcus and Pierre in the nightclub and Pierre is begging Marcus to leave).
    I'm on the fence about the 'Rectum' club. I find myself wondering if the film would have been more or less powerful if Marcus and Pierre tracked 'le Tenia' to a more banal location than the 'Rectum' club. As an english speaker, the name of the club just made me laugh (Just next door to “Le Intestine” and behind “Le Bladder.”) Yeah, 'Rectum' looked like hell, which has me wondering if it was a little too heavy handed (along with those opening credits).
    The sound track, however, along with that strange 'white noise' that put me on edge, was incredible.
    Despite my quibbles (which are really more like questions — I'm not sure if I am right about 'Rectum' being too much), I thought it was excellent.

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