2002, NR, 95 min. Directed by Gaspar Noé. Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 28, 2003
The polarizing notoriety of this controversial French import has largely obscured a more reasoned and subdued analysis of the movie’s worth. Any review of Irréversible must be prefaced with a caveat emptor: It contains two scenes of prolonged and graphic violence – one, in the opening moments of the movie, in which the film’s leading man savagely and repeatedly crushes a victim’s skull to literal pulp using a fire extinguisher as his weapon, and the other, the film’s centerpiece, in which international sex-symbol Monica Bellucci in a nearly 10-minute-long take endures a vicious anal rape only to be further brutalized and kicked in the head by her rapist as further punishment for her survival. Furthermore, viewers who last through these two scenes had best not be epileptically inclined since the film’s closing credits are accompanied by flashing strobe effects that are said to be potential fit-inducers. Obviously, director Noé’s goal is to shock and disturb, as anyone who saw his previous film I Stand Alone (the story of a racist butcher who wants to sleep with his young mute daughter – a character who makes a repeat appearance in the opening sequence of Irréversible) knows to be true. But there is more to Irréversible than its shock value. "Time destroys all things" is the phrase invoked at the beginning and end of this movie, whose director’s name when spelled backwards is "Eon." Underscoring this point is the movie’s reverse structure. Irréversible begins with the final credits crawling backwards across the screen. The Mementolike gimmick moves on to the head-smashing sequence, which we learn as the movie progresses, is the boyfriend’s retribution against the rapist. (Whether his vengeance is wrought on the correct perpetrator is another question entirely.) The movie’s camerawork is wild, dark, and jerky at the beginning, echoing the film’s out-of-control mood. But as it progresses (or degresses?), the camerawork becomes steadier and filled with light ’til the story reaches its final transcendent moment of bliss. Real-life couple Bellucci and Cassell play the boyfriend and girlfriend, and the scenes of intimacy in their home (framed between two Kubrick posters of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Killing) have a real naturalism. Noé is clearly trying to tell us something about the nature of humanity, about how we are all animals in the final analysis, capable of all kinds of savagery. I’m not sure, however, that Noé has all that much to contribute to the subject, apart from his compelling reiteration of the obvious. His technique is fascinating – worthy of notice at the very least – but his philosophical perspective is not as advanced as his mechanical skills. Additionally, Bellucci’s flimsy attire and presence in an underground walkway make it seem almost as if Noé were suggesting that the victim invited the rape. Viewers should be warned that Irréversible means what it says: Your experience of this movie can not be forgotten once the die is cast.