Irréversible September 13, 2015
Telling a story in a nonlinear fashion can be the death of some films, but for a movie as mercilessly violent as Irréversible, such an artistic decision is a saving grace. If delivered in a linear format, it would tell the story of a blissful middle-class French couple’s descent into Hell after the girlfriend (Monica Bellucci) is brutally raped and the boyfriend (Vincent Cassel) seeks a vicious brand of revenge.
It would almost be pornography, making such atrocities into inevitabilities. But by getting the extreme violence out of the way first, we are given the chance to see just how quickly lives can change for the worse, even if that change is random, by chance, and thoroughly inhuman.
Upon debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002, Irréversible, directed by Gaspar Noé, was the most controversial film at the cinematic oasis. It’s not hard to see why. In just the first few moments of the film, a man’s face is crudely (and graphically) smashed in with a fire extinguisher as a room full of sadists watch.
Later, we see a women get anally raped and beaten in the most harsh way possible — in an empty subway hallway, photographed in one, extremely long take (nine minutes, to be exact) that watches the event with eerily detached fervor. And yet Irréversible is a daring, beautifully shot film, anti-rape and anti-violence. Some would disagree with such a statement, but consider the fact that Noé chooses to end the film on a semi-happy note instead of concluding with that earlier mentioned fire extinguisher assault, that we understand that the rape will forever change the once easygoing lives of its characters, that such a horrendous assault is nobody’s fault but the attacker, that rape is a crime needed to be taken more seriously. That such cruelty exists in the world. That Noé goes over events like they happened, never glossing over their heartlessness.
I cannot say that I liked Irréversible per se, but it is an unforgettable film well-acted and well-directed, disturbing because the very last images of the film are elated but we know what’s coming and that it’s more than just tragic. As we see the series of events that occurred prior to the attack we cannot do anything but blink in agony; we wish that Alex didn’t take a stranger’s advice to use the underpass, that Alex didn’t wear that dress (though a woman should never have to worry about getting sexually assaulted for such a reason), that Alex and Marcus never would have gone to that party, that they would have never left their apartment.
Irréversible is harrowing from beginning to end, its horror more lasting than in what most call scary in a horror movie. Its depiction of an event that could easily happen any night of the week is a frightening reminder that the unexpected can hit you with the force of a tidal wave, and that the world is a ruthless place.
And, despite its depravity, I like to pretend that the film Irréversible really is is the one portrayed in the last few minutes, which sees Alex and Marcus in frank, post-coital harmony. Married during the time of filming, Bellucci and Cassel are completely at ease with each other; their nudity is not a cheap shot because the intimacy shown feels real. In those few scenes, where they’re laughing their hearts away, where they can gaze into each other’s eyes and see the person they love — those are the scenes that stick with you, not because face smashing or raping should be forgotten but because it’s a devastating fact that a pair can go from a euphoric state to a nightmarish one as circumstance destroys their lives in just nine minutes. Irréversible is not for the faint of heart, but with Noé’s fearless artistic ambition and a direct bluntness on display, it is an experience unlike any other, no matter how difficult. B