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Review: Irreversible by DrChocolate


DrChocolate helps me out with movie reviews from time to time due to my limited budget. The review below is for a movie that contains very graphic and violent scenes. Those scenes are addressed in the review, so read at your own discretion. While I feel his analysis of those scenes and the effect they had on him, the viewer, have value, neither he nor I will be offended if you skip this one.

Previous to watching the French made Irreversible I had read dozens of articles about it, knew all of the deviant, viscous events, but none of it could prepare me for the most gut wrenching, disturbing movie I have ever seen. This French film debuted at Cannes in 2003 and I’ve been daring myself to watch it ever since: well, I watched it and I don’t think I won the bet. By way of a spoiler warning too, a discussion of this film is to reveal much of the plot.

It’s almost difficult to decide where to begin with this cinematic sledgehammer. To call it sadistic, exploitive trash is to ignore its obvious talent and lasting power; however, to call it a masterpiece is to excuse its cruel, sadistic nature and abhorrent authority. Uncoiling in reverse, chronological end to beginning, this tale of revenge and misfortune is not a movie to be viewed, but one to survive. (There should be survivors guilt groups for this film). And I think that fully was director Gaspar Noe’s intention.

The “beginning” of the movie features two men, who we later learn are Pierre and Marcus, angrily scouring a gay S&M club for someone called “The Tapeworm.” Their search ends with the most violent scene I’ve ever seen on film. A man gets his face literally caved in, by the repetitious blows of a fire extinguisher; the camera never looks away. During the beating, which seems to last far too long, I actually whimpered to my laptop screen, “please…stop…” The way the camera hammers down in the same arc as the extinguisher makes the viewer feel like a participant in the beating. There is no way to illustrate the savagery of the scene; it is unrelenting.

Only until after this act of animal destruction, and frantic scenes of Pierre and Marcus scouring the seedy end of Paris for knowledge of The Tapeworm, do we learn that Marcus’ wife Alex, remarkably embodied by Monica Bellucci, was raped and beaten in a into a coma by The Tapeworm. The assault takes place over nine seemingly un-ending minutes inside the grimy confines of an underground pedestrian tunnel. It is unbearable in its savagery. The camera settles onto the concrete that Alex herself is pinned too and never looks away – for nine minutes. I didn’t last that long, I shut my eyes but could not escape the horror of the sounds and the images I had already seen. It is the most barbarous, disturbing, sickening scene I have ever seen on film. Ever.

Why would you subject yourself to such scenes of ultra-violence? The answer, maybe insufficiently, comes in the scenes that follow. As the film distances itself from the savagery it becomes calm, friendly, and at points, beautiful. We see the trio traveling to the party bantering mischievously about sex. We see Marcus and Alex lounging naked and beautiful together in bed, sweet and playful with one another. We also see the simple yet, in hindsight, tragic turn of events that sends Alex on the long walk home and into the tunnel. I will save the last big twist for those brave, or stupid, enough to submit to this hammer blow. The juxtaposition of beauty and depravity, of serenity and barbarity is deeply affecting and jarring. And this is where I find myself mixed.

The movie is profound and vile, effective and despicable, powerful but offensively manipulative. Director Noe can almost be heard in every scene ranting, “I am the director, submit yourself to my whims. I am in charge! And I have a point!” But the acting prowess, especially the deeply moving Bellucci, is without reproach and the technical skill is masterful. Each roughly ten-minute scene is staged with one long, seemingly unedited, take. The cooperation and timing of cast and crew is so impeccable that I didn’t even notice the technique until the film was over and was reflecting on what I had just witnessed. Yet, again, do skill and merit balance unrelenting viciousness and dubious motives?

The message is strong as well, in reverse and told with such a language of brutality, the whole notion of revenge, and action, and horror films is called into question. If told in proper order this might have been a satisfying, but extremely graphic revenge flick. (*MAJOR SPOILER* but even that it is called into question because they kill the wrong guy while The Tapeworm watches *SPOILER OVER*) Yet we are asked to confront our view of violence immediately, without frame of reference, and most importantly, without any reason to excuse, or frankly – enjoy, the beating in the club. The witnesses to the murder make this graphically evident by cheering, encouraging, and one actually masturbating during the beating. The point is as blunt as the extinguisher, but it stuck with me. Deep down I had to ask why do I smile at the savagery of The Hills Have Eyes, why do I laugh when Bond blows up that guy on the runway in Casino Royale, why do I feel joy when Liam Neeson dismantles all those deviants in Taken, or find myself giggling at the gore in Dawn of the Dead. Why am I entertained by violence and revenge? What makes those movies and their violence and manipulation any more reprehensible than this film? It took a good while after surviving this to bring myself to watch any movie with more than slapstick violence. Even now, after moving back to more graphic fare, this movie still haunts the recesses of my mind. I now have to make a conscious decision on whether I’m going to be entertained by carnage and bloodshed. Often, I feel guilty after I do, more than I usually did.

There is also appears to be some very interesting, provocative commentary exploring manhood, machismo, female attraction, and sexual roles. However, it would probably take another viewing or two in order to full absorb the themes and I just don’t think I have it in me.

So is this a good movie? I don’t know, essentially it’s probably a very good one, but I don’t want to admit that. Do I recommend it? Never. Not to anyone. If you want to see it, it is your own, singular decision, do not include me in that process. And do not blame me if you do.