Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Screwed-Up Movies: Irréversible

Irréversible (2002)
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer(s): Gaspar Noé
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel
First and foremost - and despite its subject matter - Irréversible is a beautiful, beautiful film. It has to be, of course, in order for its disturbing premise to actually work. In ultimately disguising one of the most wretched of human actions in a beautiful film, French director Gaspar Noé tricks us, again and again, in order to get his point across. The fact that he infuses his film with a certain sensuality and beauty makes it all the more disturbing.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let's make it clear: the centerpiece of Irréversible is a rape scene. And one unlike any other rape scene ever depicted in motion picture history. The camera does not move. The rape lasts for several minutes and never cuts away. The audience is forced to watch it as if a fly glued to a wall. It is harrowing, depressing, and disturbing. There is even a moment when a passerby walks in, sees the rape, and walks away in attempt to "not get involved." Humanity at its worst. And presented in full-color 16mm. That the scene is not so unbelievable can make one want to jump off a bridge.

But Noé tricks us. Again and again.

Irréversible begins with the rape victim's (Alex) husband and good friend exacting revenge on the man whom they believe conducted the rape. It is a chaotically shot scene, refusing to let the audience focus on anything save for snippets of sodomy and hedonism. The tone is set. And there is no question the audience is in for a bumpy ride. The audience will not learn that Alex's husband (Marcus) and friend (Pierre) killed the wrong man until the rape scene. It is a revelation that no one wants to acknowledge. Humanity at its worst, yet again.

Roger Ebert famously stated that Irréversible is "a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." And this is true. But Noé tricks us. Repeatedly. For the film ends beautifully, with an examination of two lovers believing that a child is on the way. As a capsule, it is a touching ending... as the ending to Irréversible, it only makes what we've seen seem worse. But we can't help but admire the beauty. In this manner, Noé reveals a bit of glee in pointing out how disgusting we can be.

There is a scene in which we see Monica Bellucci, sensually dressed, moving through a party. Her nipples are evident, and her body's curves overwhelm any possibility of subtlety in her dress. In any other film, the men in the audience would be aroused beyond belief. But, Irréversible is presented in reverse chronological order, and we experience this otherwise delicious scene after we've seen Alex raped... and the effect is horrifying.

Bellucci is known for accepting roles that push the boundaries of acceptability. The role of Alex is no different. The irony is that, because it's so brutal and honest a film, it's unacceptable. And, perhaps, unwatchable.

But it is beautiful. Because Noé tricked us. And we all hate to admit it.

Don't say you weren't warned.


  1. Sounds intriguing if not a bit hard to watch. Not one for the feinthearted. Fortunately, I'm not feinthearted. I'll seek it out.

  2. Sounds like a film I'd do well to see alone.

  3. hmmm...your reviews are intriguing--you give us insight as to the validity of a film, but not a real endorsement. This movie might be for hardcore film enthusiasts alone.

  4. Thanks for the review. Exciting, if disturbing, and elegantly quick note:
    Next time, could you PLEASE advise "Spoiler Alert", if you are revealing key "surprises" in the film?

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