POSSIBLE SPOILERS & TRIGGER WARNINGS
I had been hearing about the French film, Irreversible, for a long time. I had seen it mentioned various times on disturbing movie lists and videos, and only recently did I decide I was finally ready to watch it.
But I don’t think anyone can ever be ready for such a film as this.
Irreversible, directed by Gaspar Noé, is a French new-wave kind of avant-garde thriller. Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel (who I love from Black Swan) and Albert Dupontel, the film follows a non-linear narrative, following two men who are seeking revenge for the rape of Alex, giving the audience an opportunity to piece together what really happened and at what time.
Critic Roger Ebert said that this movie was so ‘violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable’ and to be honest, he’s not wrong. I was not expecting to be so disturbed by the violence in the film because I suppose I’ve seen a lot of violent movies, but in fact, I’d say this was one of, if not the most, disturbingly violent film I have ever watched. And I suppose that is saying something.
But, I’m not criticising the film for being violent. Irreversible is not just some gore-horror film where people are getting tortured and cut up every scene, it’s experimental and powerful and uses unique techniques- like the sometimes illegible cinematography where it’s hard to actually see what’s going on and has a controversial and confrontational subject matter. The film clearly does not care about offending anyone, in the first five minutes of the film the word ‘fag’ is said so many times it begins to lose meaning. Ideas like nihilism, despair and the concept of time also feature heavily throughout Irreversible, and has also been linked to the New French Extremity movement, described as a “crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis” and has been described as “cinema of the body.”
The film begins with the ending, where a man reveals he was arrested for having sex with his daughter. The two men talk about how “time destroys everything” and how “there are no bad deeds, just deeds.” The scene then changes to outside a homosexual BDSM night club, called ‘The Rectum’ (yes really), where a man is being brought out on a stretcher and another being put in handcuffs. Those two men turn out to be the main characters, Marcus, (the guy on the stretcher) and Pierre, (the guy getting arrested). The next scene is then a very intense, manic club scene where we see Marcus running around trying to find a man named ‘Le Tenia’, passing many people doing very disturbing sexual things in the confines of this club.
Eventually, he thinks he has found this man, ‘Le Tenia’ and begins to attack him, but the man overpowers Marcus, breaks his arm and tries to anally rape him. Pierre steps in, and in what is one of the most graphic things I’ve ever seen, he uses a fire extinguisher to crush the man’s skull until it caves in- leaving just a bloody mess of brains, bone and skin. Honestly, during this scene, I had to look away near the end of it because it was just making me feel physically sick, and really set the tone for the level of violence this film was prepared to show it’s audience.
The rape scene in this film happens around the midway point and lasts for what seems like an eternity. I have honestly never seen something so realistic, so violent and just excruciating to watch that while I was watching it I actually felt disgusted at myself for watching it. The man, ‘Le Tenia’ is a man so disgusting and violent I felt physically repulsed watching this scene take place. I would not watch this scene again even if someone paid me.
But, as I said before, I’m not really criticising the film for showing rape in this way. It is so deeply uncomfortable and traumatising to watch, but surely it’s just reflecting what real life rape is like. Sexual attacks on women do happen like this all over the world and part of me thinks to show it in this way may hopefully open people’s eyes to watch actually does happen to women around the world in every country.
Overall the film is definitely disturbing. It is not a film I would watch again, but I am glad I have watched it and experienced it. The film is experimental with its cinematography and unique with its narrative structure and truly is an experience for the audience watching it. The film asks questions to the audience about revenge and if vengeance is truly a human right or if things would be better if you left it up to the universe to punish those who have done wrong. Is the future truly “already written” by the choices we make, shown through the non-linear narrative structure where certain actions of the characters lead to other actions. If Marcus had not taken cocaine at the party they were all at, would Alex still of left the party early by herself? Or would she have stayed with Marcus and Pierre and got home safe and sound? Are there premonitions of future events everywhere or is everything just a collection of coincidences?
Does time really destroy everything?