Starring-Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel
Top 10 Disturbing Films-#4
Reviewed February 7, 2016
As I ponder my review of Irreversible, a 2002 French thriller and “art film”, I am attempting (as I always do) to look at the film critically, from a story and a technical standpoint, as well as a myriad of other aspects that make up a film. This is admittedly a toughie. On the surface I despised the film wholeheartedly (more on that later), but from a critical standpoint, I found characteristics to admire and give credit to. One thing is for certain- I never want to see this film again.
The story is told non-linear style and, in fact, begins at the conclusion of the story and works backwards, which I credit the film for, giving it a unique storytelling experience, cleverly done. Two Parisian friends, Marcus and Pierre, go on a rampage after Marcus’s girlfriend is brutally raped and beaten. In panic mode, they learn the name of the attacker (Le Tenia) and go to a gay BDSM club aptly named “The Rectum”, a place the attacker apparently frequents, where they fervently search for him all the while beating club-goers and causing havoc.
Since the story is told in reverse, the audience is initially in a state of confusion at the events transpiring, and the jagged, shaky camera work, a very creative technique, only adds to the chaos. We only know that two maniacs are running rampant, destroying everything in their path. Slowly, we realize what their motivation is as we work backwards. We are introduced to Alex, a beautiful young woman- in the early stages of pregnancy, who is Marcus’s steady, but used to date Pierre. They are all very good friends. We see the romance between Marcus and Alex, and, working even further backwards, we see Alex sitting alone in a park, reading a novel, and enjoying a bright, pleasant day in the park. This peaceful closing scene contrasts drastically with the rest of the dark film. The film then becomes a flashing, frenetic, black and white experience, which I do not understand.
The film is quite bizarre and intensely brutal. The rape of Alex in a dark, gloomy underpass is one of the most intense and disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in film, and at one point I needed to leave the room briefly. The scene is ten minutes in length and Alex is anally raped and then beaten into a comatose state. It is a sickening scene and we witness her pain, misery, and humiliation first hand.
When Pierre and Marcus avenge her rape on who they think is Le Tenia, the scene is also extremely brutal. After (supposed) Le Tenia is captured by them, he attempts to rape Marcus, and Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher and bashes the victim to death as the face is repeatedly destroyed in full detail. It is a tough scene to watch.
I question the motivations of the director wholeheartedly and wonder if his intentions were to story-tell, or simply make as gruesome and shocking a film as possible. I have read that when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, many people walked out of the auditorium in disgust- I can see why. Irreversible is severely homophobic, with repeated gay slurs being used throughout the gay club scenes and is also anti- Asian as evidenced by Pierre’s and Marcus’s racial slurs directed at a taxi driver.
The motivations of the character of Le Tenia make no sense to me as it is revealed he is a gay man. Why a gay man would brutally rape a female is unclear to me. This, combined with the extreme brutality, anti gay, anti minority, and anti women, render the film rather pointless from a story perspective.
My assumption after processing the film is that the director wants us to sympathize with nobody in the film, except Alex. Pierre, Marcus, certainly Le Tenia are all hateful characters. It is interesting how, at first, since the beginning is the end, the motivations of the characters are unclear and confused.
My admiration of Irreversible comes solely from the unique camera work, the clever pacing of the film in the form of backwards chapters, and the frenetic style of the opening work, however the homophobia, racism, and brutality left me cold and I could not shake the feeling that this film is shocking for the sake of being shocking, and one that I ultimately cannot applaud.