dir: Gaspar Noe
[img_assist|nid=1005|title=Please don't walk through there, please go back.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=268]
The film's tagline, one of the first lines of dialogue and the film's final epigram is 'Le temps détruit tout', or 'time destroys everything'. Well, even after watching the film in its entirety, I don't agree. In enduring this film, I think there is greater accuracy in saying that it is not 'everything' that gets destroyed, it is we the audience. And it is not 'time' per se that does the damage, it's this film and its sadistic director, Gaspar Noe.
Irreversible is a brutal violation of any viewer's sensibilities or capacity for handling on screen violence. It is not merely the violent scenes themselves that are beyond the pale, it is the production of the film itself. In certain sequences the camera work and the soundtrack are specifically designed to disorient, unnerve, nauseate and deeply unsettle. And this is before any of the violence appears on the scene. Specifically, at film's beginning (and towards story's end) the frenetic trawl through the bowels of the infernal gay club Rectum the camera weaves, lurches and spins in a manner specifically calculated to terrorise the audience so that by the time the horrific violence begins we are already halfway slaughtered ourselves.
The soundtrack itself during this sequence constitutes a persistent low frequency sound that has apparently been trialled in experiments by riot police for use on crowds with the purpose of incapacitating them. To say that the sound itself is profoundly disturbing would be an understatement, but in truth with everything else the film has to offer, it's just the beginning. As should be painfully obvious by now, the film is an exercise in temporal torture told in a manner that ensures few people will walk away unscathed.
Comparing elements of Irreversible to other films in order to compare and contrast which is the more violent or more disturbing is definitely pointless. Suffice to say that at least in the eyes of this audience member, it is the nastiest, most violent film I have ever seen. I regret having watched it because there are images which I
cannot get out of my head now. I can fully acknowledge that the film has artistic merit, has a tremendously powerful message to say about the profound viciousness that humanity is capable of, and even a poignant aspect as to the fragile, tenuous nature of happiness. And of course its central premise that there are actions from which no-one can recover, crimes and cruelty that can never be erased. But I cannot in all conscience recommend the film to another living soul. Whether other people will be as affected by it, I can't know. But I can't run that risk.
Of course even implying something like that is like a red rag to a bull: such a warning is only going to make people more curious, and also doubtful as to how bad it all truly gets. It sounds like a challenge, a dare more than anything else. Ah well, it's a different risk I'm willing to take. With that in mind, I have no qualms talking
about the film in its entirety, since I don't think there are any spoilers left to be spoiled. And such a film works in the viewing, not in the plot. There are no twists, only contusions and the torments of those who don't even know they're damned yet.
The film is told in twelve segments that occur in a reversed chronology. The sequences themselves are all single shots. So the film begins at the end of the story: two men, Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) are taken away by the police from a gay club, with the various remaining patrons hurling abuse at them. This club, called quite poetically The Rectum, is not the kind of place where you'd see the prissy yuppies from Queer as Folk or those dandelions from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy dancing around a handbag on the pristine dancefloor with a parasoled drink in their well-manicured hands. If those characters ever appeared there I would guess that they'd be fisted to death and eaten, probably not in that order.
The second sequence begins where they enter the club in search of a man called Le Tenia (meaning 'the tapeworm'). The entire unsettling sequence leads up to a brutal murder of a man we believe to be Le Tenia. It is truly a brutal murder. It seems glib to say that, but it goes beyond any of the brutality that most staunch cinephiles have become desensitised to over the years.
The next sequence leads up to Marcus and Pierre trying to find the club Rectum, with Marcus mad with rage and inconsolable, Pierre trying to calm him down as they drive around in a frenzy. The next sequence shows us how they got the taxi.
The story keeps going backwards until the middle of the film where we see Marcus' current girlfriend and Pierre's ex, a woman called Alex (played bravely by Monica Belluci), get raped and beaten almost to death by Le Tenia. This is ten minutes of unremitting savagery for a multiplicity of reasons: because we know the narrative is going backwards, because we have seen the after-effects, we know that Alex cannot escape, she has no hope; it is a continual ten minute sequence with no cuts, which feels unending and inescapable; the camera specifically puts us in a position where we are both impotent to change anything and become accomplices in what is going on; during the rape a figure appears in the tunnel, sees what's going on, and decides not to intervene, which is us the complicit, cowardly audience again; as is every rape of course, the very act as depicted and acted is truly, depressingly horrific, and represented with such sickening
viciousness and realism that I desperately hope that I never see anything as awful again as long as I live, and to top that off he tries to annihilate her face afterwards, which shows that anything can always get worse, lastly from the sequence's start we see that Le Tenia is not the man killed by our protagonists at the film's beginning.
All thoughts of the potential validity of vengeance or achieving any form justice through violence are negated entirely. The pure force of violence, of man's capacity for inhuman cruelty to sweep aside all reason, all hope, all happiness is such that it is inescapable and unavoidable. In its realisation this film represents one of the most purely nihilistic expressions that the art of film has ever managed. Unlike the film's structure, there is no going back, for them or for us.
The sequences continue to tell the past, but we as an audience are so shell-shocked that the humour, the gentle humanity and sweetness of the relationship between Alex and Marcus only serves to make what has
come before seem even more brutal. It ends on a final irony whose purpose is to torment us even more, since with having shown no mercy to his characters, director Noe isn't going to show any mercy to us.
As an artistic statement the film is perfectly valid, of that I have no doubt. The performances are excellent, the real-life couple of Cassel and Belucci appear completely natural with each other on screen, making their fates even sadder. Dupontel as Pierre, trying to be the voice of reason ends up being the film's vessel for its
greatest irony. It is a profoundly sad, disturbing film I will never watch again, in any form, for as long as I live. I am not glad on a personal level that I watched it, because now there are images in my head that no amount of whisky can get rid of. But the part of me that is a dilettante in the realm of film theory and criticism appreciates the skill and forcefulness of its realisation, and can see why it was made.
I saw the film at a cinema in the city called the Lumiere, on a day where it must have been Senior Citizens Come Alive day, because the place was chock full of pensioner badness. Most of them were there to see a newly restored print of Luchino Visconti's masterpiece The Leopard, but some of them must have gotten confused and bought a ticket to the wrong film. I'm sure the film might have killed a few of the oldies that didn't walk out after the halfway mark. And respect must be paid to the mercenary cronies at the Lumiere who marketed the film on the basis of its controversial reputation. Implying that audiences should see it soon because the film might get banned like the ill-fated Baise Moi the year before, and having the cinema manager ring up talkback radio deliberately to drum up outrage in the community were strokes of unparalleled stupidity.
There were walkouts, as would be expected, probably half the aged audience. Except for a vile little ancient man who could not have been a day younger than 80, who spent the entire film with a newspaper in
his lap. He left a pile of suspicious tissues behind afterwards as well. This might seem to be a throwaway remark for the purposes of humour, but it's not. I mention it here because it shows that there were people whose reactions to the sexual violence in the film were different from my own; it also shows that you don't even have to look as far as the fiction on the screen, look next to you in the cinema to see the capacity for human vileness; and lastly, this film put me in such a bad mood that I seriously felt like beating the octogenarian up and breaking his hips, which is shameful.
Any argument that such subject matter doesn't need to be depicted with as much rawness and realism in film is negated entirely by a simple set of facts: in this world, with a population of over 6 billion people, on a daily basis there are people who experience even worse fates than those suffered by the characters in this film, terrible annihilations of life and being, every single day. The day that stops happening (which is the day just after never and the Tuesday after that) is the day the expression of such honesty becomes redundant. But
it is an honesty that is taxing in the telling and the hearing, certainly too much for me. It has been two days since I watched it (Tuesday, 17th Feb 2004), and I have not yet recovered. I can only hope that whilst time and violence renders aspects of life irreversible, the fact that some memories can fade with time is truly
Until then, enjoy.
Irreversible is unrateable. Just say Noe
Le temps detruit tout - Irreversible