Crossing the Line – Irreversible

As I mentioned last week, we are looking today at the hardest film we’ve watched yet. It involved no actual cruelty to any living creatures, but was so intensely graphic and painful to watch that we contemplated turning it off to recover. Irréversible (2002) is Gaspar Noe’s look at pain, love, fate, and revenge.

Tagline: Time destroys everything

Synopsis: Running completely backwards, Irréversible begins with a disorienting trip through the bowels of the S&M gay club (the Rectum) as Marcus, pushes and bullies his way through the club in a rage, searching for “Le Tenia” while his companion Pierre tries to talk him down. He confronts who he believes to be Le Tenia and is beaten and has his arm broken before Pierre appears and beats the assailants face completely in with a fire extinguisher. Following the path of the two back through their search for Le Tenia, the audience is shown that the assailant’s friend was actually the one Marcus wanted, because he had brutally raped Marcus’ girlfriend Alex, putting her into a coma. Alex had left a party early when Marcus consumed too much cocaine and alcohol and acted like a crazed boor. Pierre turns out to be Alex’s ex-boyfriend, a bookworm and overall irritating person unable to accept that Marcus is more sexually potent than Pierre was, and that he makes Alex happier then Pierre ever could. The last two scenes of the film show Marcus and Alex in total bliss, loving each other completely, and reveal that Alex is/was pregnant.

Interesting Fact: The first 30 minutes of the film has a background noise with a frequency of 28Hz (low frequency, almost inaudible), similar to the noise produced by an earthquake. In humans, it causes nausea, sickness and vertigo. It was the main cause of people walking out of the theaters during the first part of the film in places like Cannes and San Sebastian. In fact, it was added with the purpose of getting this reaction.

Objectionable material: Graphic Rape, Male Nudity, Female Nudity, arm broken at the elbow, racism, face bashed in on camera, drug use, rape, French people, transvestites, masturbation, rape, homosexuality, bondage, did I already mention rape?
Disturbing Quote: With a little money, we can help you get revenge. The assailant drew blood. Blood calls for revenge. Vengeance is a human right.

PsychoLarry: The best way I could describe this film is a compressed version of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” without the poetry and contemporary Italian political references. The Rectum is hellish, with swirling uncomfortable blurs surrounding it as the outer circles, reserved for the minor offenders simply engaging in sinful lust. Deeper in is the heart of Hell, a furious Marcus beating and abusing everyone around him, deaf to the pleas of his more reasonable friend. He finally gets to who he believes is Satan and is broken effortlessly, after which the audience is forced to watch a man have his face completely bashed in without cuts or mercy. Hell culminates in the unbelievably brutal raping of Alex, in her very first appearance in the movie. The rape is long, the scene is 10 minutes with no cut, and both actors are completely convincing. In vicious irony, Marcus attacked the man standing directly next to the actual rapist, and suffered an arm broken in half for it. His rage and vengeance was completely misplaced.

The purgatory that follows is less memorable if only because everyone is so numbed by the first third of the movie. Marcus is at first a furious agent of vengeance, led by some morally dubious thugs, who help him threaten and attack a group of prostitutes to find the rapist, before he goes on to steal a Chinese man’s cab. He uses too many drugs, he treats Alex like shit, he hits on other women, and is generally insufferable. Pierre turns out to be just as annoying, harping on and on about Marcus’ ape-like nature and his own problems with sexuality. He hits on Alex until it reaches a point of being creepy.

The film ends in heaven, with two beautiful people talking in post-coital love, totally comfortable together naked, and totally devoted to one another. They speak of plans for the future, tease each other, and are just generally a picture perfect couple. Alex contemplates the child she just found out she was carrying and the film flashes back to total utopia, with Alex reading in a sunny park as children play around her. Heaven.
I don’t know which is more effective, to see the film back to front, with all the pain and brutality in the beginning becoming all the more potent for the idyllic nature of the end, or to see something loving and beautiful destroyed completely and utterly in a night. Either way Time Destroys All Things. Noe makes a film that is incredibly beautiful and powerful, that raises a number of moral questions not easily answered, especially about the nature of revenge and love. For all the difficulty we had in watching the film, I think it was an excellent movie, and one well worth watching if you’re willing to put yourself though it.

Screaming Girl: PsychoLarry told me two weeks ago that I would have to write a column for Irreversible. He did this to prepare me for the movie that really bothered me and make sure my column was on time. I have packing to do and my turtle’s tank needs to be cleaned but damnit I won’t let PsychoLarry yell at me for being late. Again. So here I am, taking a break from packing up my house and writing the column on the day that it is due.

Irreversible was probably the best title for this movie. Unfortunately it is also the best controversial movie so far. It pains me to say this because of the gruesome beginning where someone is killed with a fire extinguisher and the extremely realistic rape scene. The truth is, once this movie is seen there is no way to take it back.

PsychoLarry and MBRFT warned me about the rape scene but I had no idea what I was in for. I expected the rape scenes from the other movies, awkward, unbelievable or strangely sexy. This was none of those things. The three of us sat on the couch for half an hour watching a girl get raped. It was so real I felt PsychoLarry and MBRFT look away and I felt the need to either cry or leave the room. I wasn’t going to do either of those things though because I knew I would be made fun of just to break us away from the movie for a second. But the rape scene was only made more upsetting by the revelation at the end of the movie (too bad you’ll have to watch it to find out). Surprisingly the rape scene served a purpose. It completely explained the reason for killing in the beginning. As I said before the movie was actually really good. However, if you have ever been raped or beaten to death with a fire extinguisher I recommend not watching it.

Rating on the mind-fuckability scale: I might need to call my shrink for the nightmares that are on their way and my new irrational fear of dark Parisian streets and bickering with my boyfriend.

MBRFT: If anyone has any lingering doubt that rape is wrong (psycholarry in particular), they should be forced to sit through about 9 minutes of this movie. And then, if they’re still not sold, they should go ahead and watch the whole damn thing.
Despite the graphic on-screen violence and horrifying rape shot in a single-take (using digital trickery), I really don’t find this movie controversial at all. Every other film we’ve watched that’s chock full of violence, animal snuff, talking assholes, white guys acting black, etc., arguably could have been censored or filmed with greater subtlety and the message or intent of the film would still be intact. “Irreversible” is the work of a competent and mature director who uses these tools perfectly to hammer home the devastation and human violation of its crimes. Noe seemingly manages the impossible and doesn’t glorify a minute of it. Yes, the film is as soul-crushing as “Salo,” briefly as graphic as “Cannibal Holocaust,” and as spontaneously violent as “Audition,” but I never found it exploitive or meaningless. Most importantly, the film tells a story. And uses backwards chronology to give us the consequences first. I’d normally say that putting your climax at the beginning of the film is the very definition of anti-climactic, but instead we get character development that alters the way we perceive the actions of the characters and is emotionally wrenching. The scenes would probably still work in correct order as well. “Irreversible” is further proof that nothing bad has ever come out of France…ever.

-Next week we reach our 10th column! To celebrate we’re going to look at two Japanese people having sex constantly! Look forward to our review of In the Realm of the Senses!


2 Comments on “Crossing the Line – Irreversible”

  1. Canek says:

    …the audience is forced to watch a man have his face completely bashed in without cuts or mercy…

    Mmmmh. If I remember correctly, actually the skull of the guy is completely smashed with the fire extinguisher, not just his face.

  2. psycholarry says:

    True. It’s sort of a more realistic version of the scene in Sin City where Bruce Willis punches the Yellow Bastards face into paste.

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