A woman’s (Monica Bellucci) lover (Vincent Cassel) and her former boyfriend (Albert Dupontel) take justice into their own hands after she becomes the victim of a rapist.
Gaspar Noé is a director whose films I’ve never watched before. After hearing about his new film Climax coming out this year, I decided to check out some of his previous work before watching it, much like how I watched Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy before watching his latest film The House that Jack Built. I had been hearing so much controversy surrounding this movie, I heard about that there was some extreme violence and a disturbing rape scene. Naturally I wasn’t exactly looking forward to watching it but I pushed through it anyway to check it out. While it’s not a movie that I want to see again, at the same time I admire a lot of the things that it does and what Noé is trying to say with it.
I should probably say that the plot points and scenes that I mention aren’t exactly spoiling the movie, it’s nothing more than what is already said in the summary for the movie. As you might’ve guess from the title, is done in reverse order, so we get the revenge early on, then we see the rape that sets the revenge in motion, then we see what happened before all of that. While it takes this reverse order of storytelling from Christopher Nolan’s Memento (so it’s not completely original), Irreversible still manages to make this unconventional way of storytelling not just a cool but cheap gimmick. It’s also not that difficult to follow, it’s a very straightforward movie in fact. We’ve seen plenty of movies which are pretty much revenge fantasies that are very self indulgent. By seeing the payoff first, then seeing the act that sparked it, and then the rest of the movie however, it’s making the audience reflect about the revenge throughout the rest of the movie. On top of it, it doesn’t glamourize it or make it easy to watch by any means, far from it in fact, it is so incredibly brutally realistic that for some it’ll be absolutely unwatchable, and I don’t blame those who hate watching it. It is a very ugly movie, but it’s ugly to make a point. What I can say is that after the rape scene, the rest of the movie is way more tame in comparison, it’s just sadder watching them knowing what’s going to happen to these characters.
The main 3 characters are really just Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel and all 3 are great in their roles. Bellucci plays the woman who ends up the victim of the rape and Cassel and Dupontel play the two men (boyfriend and ex boyfriend of Bellucci) who look for the man responsible. All 3 give painfully real performances and were just all around fantastic.
This is the first film I’ve seen from Gaspar Noé, and his direction here is great, he has a strong understanding of what he is doing here. One of the most unique things about Irreversible is the camerawork. Every scene is filmed in one long tracking shot and quite often the camera spins around. As time goes on, especially in the second half, it stops the spinning quite a bit and calms things a lot more, but it’s still pretty dizzying for the first half. Anyone who easily has motion sickness is probably not going to be able to get past 10 minutes of this movie. The most extreme case of this spinning filmmaking technique was in a scene in a sex club early on, where the camera is just rotating and spinning all over the place as it follows a character looking throughout the club. We can see some of what’s going on with the place and the people and it only really settles down properly when the brutal violence starts. That brings me to the violence. I have a pretty high movie violence threshold, I was actually able to stomach most of Antichrist. So know that when I say that the violence in Irreversible was incredibly hard to watch and got a reaction out of me, that means a lot coming from me. Not to spoil anything, but a particular scene involving a fire extinguisher scene really just set the mood for the rest of the movie. It’s not gloriously violent like in a Tarantino movie, it is painfully realistic, and it forces you to watch every second of it, not because it wanted to be edgy or because they thought that it was gratifying to watch, but because it really wants you to feel the level of brutality the acts are (of course I am thinking deeply about this). As for the aforementioned rape scene, it’s one long 10 minute tracking shot and doesn’t budge from the heinous act. There’s a fine line between having a point and being needlessly cruel, and thankfully Noé manages to balance it well. It is undeniably hard to watch and I had to skip through it after a couple of minutes but it does it’s job well. Much of the movie is made even more unnerving by the use of an extremely low-frequency sound to create a state of nausea in the audience that occurs for the first hour of the movie, I have to say it was very effective at making the whole experience even more unsettling than it already is.
Irreversible is tragic, well directed, greatly acted and is a ferocious attack on the senses in a great way. Saying it’s not for everyone is an understatement. Along with the trippy storytelling and camerawork which could induce motion sickness for some people, it is of course very dark and disturbing, with extreme violence that made even me cringe. Much like Antichrist, I can’t in good conscious recommend Irreversible. It’s a good movie for sure, it’s just that if you’re going to watch it you’ll have to be prepared for it, and even then there’s a 95% chance that you won’t be, I certainly wasn’t.