I watched Irreversible a couple weeks back on Zampano’s recommendation, and I wasn’t really impressed with it the first time around. If you’ve heard of the movie, you probably know it for its climactic scene, where Monica Bellucci gets graphically raped in a Parisian pedestrian tunnel. A couple feminists claimed to have been triggered by my using a still from the movie as an image for my podcast interview with Zampano, which the two of us found amusing; I only picked the still because it’s the image that Zampano uses for his Gravatar and Twitter account.
Honestly, call me heartless or sociopathic, but the rape scene in Irreversible really didn’t move me all that much.
Part of the overreaction to Irreversible is in part due to feminists brainwashing everyone in believing that rape is the WORST! THING! EVER!, creating a Pavlovian response where people automatically describe rape as “brutal” or “sickening” regardless of the facts of the matter, like devout Christians going into apoplectic rage when they’re confronted with “sin.” See: Lee Stranahan getting raked over the coals for suggesting that the Steubenville rape wasn’t “brutal.”
The other problem is that objectively, Irreversible doesn’t give the audience any reason to care about what happens to Bellucci’s character. The film’s big schtick is that the scenes are played in reverse order, so all the crucial character development isn’t shown until after we’ve seen the rape. Not only that, director Gaspar Noé absolutely drowns the audience in graphic violence for the first half of the film, to the point where it gets boring. By the time Bellucci’s character gets raped, we’ve not only seen what she looks like afterwards, but we’ve also watched a man get his arm broken by a gay rapist, another man get his skull smashed in with a fire extinguisher, a tranny hooker get brutalized at knifepoint, a cab driver get beaten and maced, and more. I found the rape scene in Blue Velvet to be far more disturbing, mainly because that movie actually gives us a reason to care about its characters.
Also interesting that in both movies, the character who gets raped is played by an Italian model better known for her looks than her acting chops.
It doesn’t help that Irreversible’s story is on the level of I Spit on Your Grave. It’s about a woman named Alex (Bellucci) who gets raped and her boyfriend (Vincent Cassel) and his friend’s (Albert Dupontel) attempt to get revenge on her assailant. Really. That’s as deep as it gets. Showing the film’s scenes in reverse chronological order allows for some interesting developments (such as the revelation that Marcel and Pierre end up killing the wrong guy), but as I mentioned already, throwing all the character development at the end makes it impossible to get emotionally invested in the story. In fact, I was so bored by the end that not even a naked Monica Bellucci could keep me from falling asleep.
When I commented to this effect on Twitter, Chip Smith pointed me to Michael Blowhard’s (Ray Sawhill’s) thoughts on the movie. Sawhill sees the movie as a metaphor for the decline of France, and to a lesser extent Europe and the West in general, making its point through subtleties in presentation and tone rather than beating you over the head with it. With this in mind, I decided to give Irreversible another shot, and found a lot of merit in Sawhill’s analysis.
I don’t know if I’d ever call Irreversible a good movie, but it’s worth watching at least once.
The biggest things that stood out to me on my second viewing was the cinematography and camerawork. One of the reasons why I disliked the film the first time around was because Noé swings the camera around like an autistic kindergartener bombed on Red Bull, never focusing on any one thing for more than a brief moment. This is particularly evident during the scene in the gay BDSM club Rectum, which flashes a different vision of depravity on screen every other second. Combined with the already bleak, dark underground settings of Irreversible’s first half and Noé’s love of low-angle shots, it’s difficult to keep a bead on the action.
Thing is, this doesn’t hold true for the second half, which follows Marcel and Alex’s happy life before the rape. While the camera still switches views frequently, its movement is no longer herky-jerky but smooth and natural, often going above to give us a bird’s eye view of the scene. Indeed, the final scene shows us Bellucci reading a book from overhead. Additionally, the settings of these scenes are colorful and full of life; a posh party, a nice part of the metro, Marcel and Alex’s cheery apartment and the like.
The rape scene is a neat divider between these two styles, as it’s the only part of the movie where the camera is stationary for any length of time.
The other aspect of Irreversible that popped out at me was the contrast between Marcel and Alex’s relationship and the mindless hedonism of the gays at Rectum. The obvious difference between the reproductive nature of normal sex (indeed, we learn near the end of the film that Alex was pregnant) and the sterile nature of gay sex is important, but Noé throws in more red meat for the audience to snack on. One of the early scenes (chronologically) has Marcel, Alex and Pierre talking about orgasming and how couples have a responsibility to pleasure each other; this stands in comparison to the selfish orgies at Rectum, whose depraved patrons see each other purely as a means to get off.
Indeed, the gay characters in Irreversible are its villains, used as a metaphor for soulless self-gratification and psychopathy. Alex is violently sodomized by a gay man for no other reason than because he can get away with it. Another homo tries to do the same thing to Marcel, again for no other reason than because he can.
Not only do the gays lack any concern for straights, they have no loyalty to each other. During the scene in which Pierre beats the homo to death at Rectum, none of the man’s compadres lift a finger to help him, even though they outnumber Pierre thirty to one. Hell, afterwards they joke about how the guy’s face got “fucked up.” Contrast this with Marcel and Pierre’s friendship; Pierre sticks by his friend even as he becomes increasingly irrational and “blood simple,” as Hammett might put it. Indeed, Pierre tried to dissuade Marcel from entering Rectum, yet still rides to his rescue when he gets in a jam.
Not only that, we learn that Pierre had been dating Alex before Marcel “stole” her away, yet Pierre still stands by him.
The commentary is fairly obvious: Noé is making a point about the atomization of French and Western society. Marcel, Alex and Pierre represent the France of old, the France of community, love and belonging; their ruination at the hands of the Rectum gays represents the unmaking of traditional society by hedonism and leftism. There are other subtle clues hinting at this message; for example, the final (chronologically first) scene shows Monica Bellucci reading while accompanied by Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, while the first (chronologically last) scene features obnoxious, degenerate electronic music of the kind you need to be on MDMA to tolerate.
Not only that, Irreversible makes the depressing point that there’s no going back.
The film opens and closes with the same quote, “time destroys everything.” Marcel and Pierre’s sojourn in vigilantism is a complete failure. Not only do they end up murdering the wrong man, Marcel’s arm is broken and Pierre is looking at life in prison. It’s also subtly hinted that Alex might not recover from her injuries. Her rapist will continue to walk free.
Their idyllic lives are gone forever.
Like I said, I don’t know if all this symbolism makes Irreversible a good movie. It’s still a film with a B-movie plot, gratuitous violence and so-so acting. But it’s worth watching to decide for yourself.
Click here to watch Irreversible.
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