Irréversible (2002)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Irréversible</strong> (2002)

(Cineplex Store Streaming, November 2018) Somehow, I expected much worse. Few movies deserve the tile of “infamous” but Irréversible is one of them. From the off-kilter opening credits onward, it famously “features” an exceptionally gory death as an opening statement (fire extinguisher plus face; not a good mix and I won’t add more) and revolves around a nine-minute-long rape sequence that’s filmed as one uninterrupted shot that leaves no detail to the imagination nor any place for the viewer to hide. I knew all of this before watching the film and it did take me a while to bring myself to watch it, only spurred to it by an unfortunate need to cross movies from a to-see list. Irréversible is not a fun movie to watch. In fact, it’s about as far away from fun as possible—call it an ordeal, maybe. It doesn’t mince details in portraying a hopelessly nihilistic view of the world. But experiencing the film somehow isn’t as vicious as I was expecting. For one thing, there is an exceptionally clever conceit at play here in showing a traditional revenge movie in ante-chronological order: We see the revenge first, then the hunt for the suspect, then the rape, then the happy first act introducing the characters. The impact is significant: The opening salvo of violence establishes a tone that carries through the hunt, while the rape throws the happy-moment conclusion of the film is disturbing ironic territory knowing what will happen to those characters later on. As repulsive as the film can be in its excesses (did we need to see such graphic gore? Did we need to see the entire rape sequence?), there is a deliberate attempt here to go beyond conventions. You could take the script, rearrange it chronologically, remove the philosophical element, elide the rape, soften the gore and it would be an unremarkable film in-line with much of what cheap exploitative filmmakers create without anyone batting an eye. It would still be conceptually ugly. It would still be an unacceptable celebration of revenge. And it wouldn’t be the same film. I did not like Irréversible and have no plans to ever watch it again. (Hence streaming the film rather than purchasing a physical copy—I don’t want it in my house.) But I have to recognize that it’s a film with conscious intent. It’s disturbing for valid reasons—Monica Bellucci ranks highly in my personal pantheon of sex symbols, and I was honestly distressed to see her (not the character; the actress) be subjected to what she goes through in the movie. I like Vincent Cassel a lot and didn’t like the character he became in the film. (For added mind-bending, consider that Cassel and Bellucci were married while shooting Irréversible.) Screenwriter/director Gaspar Noé has since become just as infamous for equally uncompromising movies (I still have Enter the Void on my shelf of DVDs to watch, and I’m still making excuses not to watch it). Irréversible is a bold movie and I almost hate that it exists. But somehow, it’s not quite the empty exploitation vehicle I was half-expecting. I’m still recommending that you do not watch it.

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