"Irreversible" is a horrifying portrait of rape and revenge all told in reverse order, a la
Christopher Nolan's "Memento." It assaults the viewer with a barrage of gratuitous sex and
violence that makes watching it almost unbearable at times. With a dizzying, hand-held
camera, director Gaspar Noe paints a film that will leave you devastated. Yet while it may
be shocking, the film falters as a pointless piece, average in conception, poor in execution.
Before the camera actually rolls, credits fill the screen in reverse order. The music is
bold and pounding. Even before you see anything, you know you are about to witness something
dreadful. Soon the credits start to turn and we begin to see a picture. It is dark, there
is a building, and the camera swirls around and around. Inside the building on an upper
floor, two men sitting in bed wonder what the ruckus is outside.
The police and ambulance have arrived at the Rectum, an underground S & M club for men. A
man is carried out on a stretcher amidst a barrage of insults from police and paramedics.
It is Marcus, a young philosophy teacher, who by association is presumed gay. As we go
inside the club, we realize that we are treading backward in time. Marcus is with another
man (Pierre) and the two are scavenging the club looking for someone known as Le Tenia.
After much hassle, the two find a man who appears to be Le Tenia. In a fit of rage, they
bash his head in with a fire extinguisher in front of an unruly crowd. Marcus is injured
in the melee.
As we continue moving backwards in time, we learn more and more about their
motivation. Slowly, painfully. We learn that Marcus and Alex are a passionate
couple and share many intimate and gentle moments together. At a party, we see
that Alex dresses provocatively, perhaps more provocative than she should. And
we also see that one evening, Alex takes an underground passage on her way home
only to be brutally raped and beaten.
This is a tremendously disturbing film and one that I cannot recommend outwardly. It is
distressing, sexist, and sickeningly violent. It tests the viewer in an assortment of ways
from an underground dungeon full of repulsive acts to a savage head bashing to an unrelenting
rape scene. On top of it all, Noe incorporates a wobbly camera replete with strobe lights
that will seriously leave you nauseous. Forget the popcorn and soda; you probably don't want
to have anything on your stomach for this.
Many a critic and audience member alike have left this film hastily. And I must admit, I too
was one of those who cringed and looked away, thinking about bolting for the door. The
language is attestable, the stereotypes are harsh, and the violence is unforgiving. Such is
the work on Gaspar Noe, an obscure provocateur who likes to make his audience suffer. For
instance, during the attack in the Rectum, the camera just sits next to the victim's head
bobbing up and down until the face is no more. During the rape scene, the audience must sit
in anguish through a solitary shot for nearly 15 minutes! And promoters are calling this the
centerpiece scene of the film?
In watching films such as this one, you really have to think about the overall purpose. Do
such despicable scenes move the plot along? Are they absolutely necessary? Does it say
something about the characters involved, their motives, their emotions? Like a deer caught
in the headlights, I'm sure that one could argue "yes" to all of those, particularly in the
latter portions of the movie. But I just don't see it. This film is virtually devoid of
It also lacks originality. In addition to mirroring "Memento" in presentation, it copies
themes from other films such as "Taxi Driver." Noe even copies from his previous film "I
Stand Alone." If you watch that one, you can see the parallels in plot: a disturbed man
goes to prison for assaulting a man he believes has raped his daughter. Sound familiar?
"Irreversible" is a nightmare of a film. To know anything about the characters, you must
first witness their horrific crimes, either committed by them or committed against them.
With the heaviest content upfront, the film runs out of steam, ending with a whimper. In
fact, when all is said and done, you'll leave the theater wishing the two hours you spent
were not so irreversible.