Director: Gaspar Noe
Stars: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel
Hits you like a ton of fire extinguishers
first heard about Irreversible all those years ago when I was really getting into the new wave of extreme French horror. However, I was only about 15 at this time and when I was hearing about how disturbing Irreversible was with its intense 10 minute long rape scene, I decided that I’d hang on a bit. I finally decided to buy it a few months ago and only watched it last night. I was beyond excited for Irreversible. All the rave reviews made it sound like something I’d love and guess what. I did.
This isn’t my first taste of Gaspar Noe as I have seen I Stand Alone, which I liked a great deal. The directing was incredibly stylish and the violence brutally shocking, however I felt like it lacked potential. I thought it could’ve been something really great if it had a stronger plot, as it was basically just a depraved butcher walking around and giving vile monologues on how much he hates life. I still liked it though, and I especially saw the potential in Gaspar Noe as a film maker. It’s Irreversible where Noe shines like a penny.
The film instantly grabbed me with its seriously unusual opening. The credits roll back up and sort of spin around to show the title card, “Irreversible” with some unsettling music playing in the background. The camera then spins in an incredibly disorientating manner to show a creepy shot of the butcher from I Stand Alone. The actors’ names then all flash up on the screen in a super stylish manner which utterly gripped me. It’s one of the best title sequences I’ve seen, but enough about titles. There’s much more to Irreversible than that.
Irreversible begins in the depths of hell and ends in some sort of stroboscopic utopia. It’s a startling contrast and a brilliant one. The opening is incredibly intense as Marcus and Pierre enter a frightening gay club called, “The Rectum”. Marcus is full of rage and we have no idea why. He marches through the club asking anyone and everyone where “The Tape Worm” is. The directing here is nothing short of masterful. The camerawork is like Darren Aronofsky on acid and his very own slimming pills. It’s all done in one shot, making it incredibly intense as the camera hypnotically floats around in a chaotic and disorientating close-up. Not only that but there’s a startling siren soundtrack which only serves to heighten the intense atmosphere.
I was shocked to see that the much talked about fire extinguisher scene was in this early on. It very much feels like the climax of the film as it’s full of such anger, rage and raw intensity. It’s easy to see why the extinguisher scene is so talked about as it’s unflinchingly graphic and extraordinarily brutal, however to say it’s gratuitous is ridiculous as it doesn’t feel like glamorised movie violence at all. It feels frighteningly real and is extremely relevant to the film’s characters and themes.
Just like Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Memento the film is told in reverse. At first I wasn’t sure if it worked entirely as all the horror and the madness was placed near the beginning which means the film becomes more and more soft, however then I realised that it was the perfect way to tell the story. Not only does it show that violent actions cannot be reversed, but it also allows us to feel sympathy for the characters and forces us to place ourselves in their shoes as we play detective.
Each scene plays out largely in one take which adds to the film’s hyper-realistic atmosphere. The first half is concerned with Marcus finding the perpetrator so the directing is erratic which creates an atmosphere of chaos and rage, whereas the second half is concerned with showing the relationship between Marcus and Alex, so the directing is slower and more controlled. It showcases how much camerawork can contribute to a film.
Now, you can’t talk about Irreversible without talking about the infamous rape scene which occurs half-way through the film and is the most important scene in the film. It feels far too real as the camera shakily follows Alex down the underground tunnel and encounters a deranged sadist who brutally rapes her. This scene feels all the more harrowing as up until now the camera has been insanely mobile and hypnotically dreamlike. Here Noe keeps the camera deathly still like Haneke, as we’re forced to endure Alex’s ordeal. It almost feels like the audience is being raped too. It’s shocking and shockingly realistic. The only time the camera moves during the 10 minutes is when the stranger picks up Alex’s head and slams it on the floor. The camera moves in order for the audience to witness this brutality in unflinching detail.
Some have called this scene gratuitous and even accused it of titillating the audience which I find ridiculous. Rape is something that happens all the time, yet most films are too scared to tackle it. Noe tackles the issue head on and shows us all what rape is really like. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t supposed to be either. Only a sadist would find the scene a turn on.
The rest of the film is mainly concerned with showing us the relationship between Alex and Marcus. It’s all the more tragic to watch as we know how the night is going to turn out, whilst the characters are utterly oblivious. The directing is still absolutely stunning. I loved the party sequence which follows Marcus, Alex and Pierre around all in one shot with deafening music. It feels like you’re actually there! We’re also treated to some detailed conversations about sex on a subway and a heart-breaking romantic scene between Alex and Marcus. These scenes have a layered and tragic quality about them as we know exactly what is going to happen next.
The acting is extraordinary. Vincent Cassel is the best I’ve ever seen him be and the relationship between the characters is utterly believable. Although it does help that Vincent and Monica were actually in a relationship during the time of filming (I don’t know if they still are). Monica is also sensational, especially during the gruelling rape scene where I could’ve almost cried out for her. The end scene is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and will stay with me for a long time.
Irreversible is a harrowing masterpiece. The scenes of violence and sexual violence are the most shocking I’ve ever seen. It isn’t a gratuitous film; it’s simply a film which wants to show you the dark side of life. Time destroys everything as we do not know what the future has in store for us. It’s a tragic and powerful piece of filmmaking with extraordinary directing and acting. Small-minded critics may mistake the film as a gratuitous piece of work, but it really isn’t. Irreversible feels real and is an intense and powerful experience which I’d recommend with caution.