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Irreversible Review

By Shawn McKenzie 03/21/2003

I don’t mind when a filmmaker tries to shock an audience and push boundaries.  If we didn’t have that, we’d still be living under the Hayes Code (for those who don’t know what it is, the Hayes Code, a pre-cursor to the MPAA Ratings System, was a code established in the ‘20s and run by William H. Hayes, then the Postmaster General, that gave moviemakers stern restrictions on their content.)  I just don’t like it when a movie also makes you sick in ways that are other than just offensive.  French filmmaker Gaspar Noé has made a film called Irreversible that does just that.


Told in backwards narrative (in other words, it starts at the end), it is a tale of revenge committed by Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel.)  They are looking for a man named Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), a name that means “The Tapeworm,” at a gay club called The Rectum.  They want to find him because he raped Marcus’s girlfriend, Alex (Monica Bellucci, who is married to Cassel in real life.)  Alex was also formerly Pierre’s girlfriend, which partially leads him to do the bit of graphically violent revenge on Le Tenia that he does.  After the rape scene, we see that Alex had just left a party that the three had gone to because Marcus was high and acting like a jerk.  Before the party, they had taken a subway and discussed sexual politics.  Before the subway ride, Marcus and Alex had rolled around naked after just having sex, and then Alex finds out something happy (or I think it is happy, by her facial expressions) while Marcus is out buying some liquor.  Finally, Marcus and Alex are musing in a park, and the movie ends.


Okay, I am not easily offended, but there are two scenes that I thought were a little overdone.  First, Pierre’s act of violence on Le Tenia is one of the grossest, most brutal things I have ever seen on film, or what little I could see (we’ll get to that gripe later.)  I don’t want to give a lot away, but it involves the results of what a person’s skull would look like if you kept beating him after you killed him.  The problem I had here was that it wasn’t goofy fake graphic violence, like in Final Destination 2, but truly disturbing realistic-looking violence.  I wanted to yell “Stop!”  Ditto on the nine-minute rape scene.  Unlike the beat down, you don’t actually see the contact part of the rape (this isn’t a porno, after all), but you see and hear everything else for a long time.  This scene is so disturbing that it makes a porno look a Disney flick.  One last note:  if you happen to be gay, this movie won’t please you either.  There are so many homophobic comments made (and racist, in the case of an Asian cab driver) that you might be seriously offended.  From what I heard, this was the most walked out of movie at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.  I can see why.


Now, there are bigger reasons (for me at least) that I hated this movie.  First, the scene in the gay club where the guys are looking for Le Tenia is so wobbly and dark that it made The Blair Witch Project look good.  Since the characters hadn’t been established yet, the shaky camera work and exceedingly dark lighting made it hard to tell who was who.  Second, there wasn’t much of a story.  If this had been told with a structured script, it would be about a half-hour long.  From what I researched, the director Noé, who also wrote the script, gave the cast a basic outline of the story and let them ad-lib the dialogue and actions.  Every scene was one continuous shot, so there were long stretches of useless action.  This movie was padded with more useless crap than the results episodes of “American Idol.”  Some call this creative, but I called it lazy filmmaking.  Even other “real-time” portrayals, like FOX’s “24” or the 1995 drama Nick of Time, had sharp editing so the audience wouldn’t get bored.  The movie is only 99 minutes long, but it feels like double that time.  Finally, the attempt to be “arty” here is annoying.  I forgave the obvious rip-off of Memento in the backwards storytelling, but Noé goes one step further by starting the movie with the end credits (in an annoying way by making them start to rotate clockwise) and ends the movie by just…ending it.  No opening (or closing) title, no company logo…just nothing.  After the last scene, the camera spins, the screen goes dark, the house lights come up, and you leave the theater in disgust.

Irreversible just doesn’t have anything to offer anyone, except maybe weirdoes who get off on this stuff.  It will offend religious people, gays, parents, and anyone else who is easily offended.  It is most definitely not for kids (it’s unrated, but if it was, it would get the mostly useless NC-17 rating.)  It is also not for the queasy (don’t see this movie after a meal.)  Plus, it is in French with English subtitles, so people who hate foreign flicks won’t like it (I’m not one of those people; a movie can be both good and bad in all languages.)  As I said before, I don’t want to restrict a filmmaker’s attempt to shock his audience, but if it also results in lazy filmmaking, I don’t have to like it.

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Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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