There is something inherently awful about Irreversible. It’s not that it’s a bad movie by any means, but it’s awful in the sense that it’s a truly gut-wrenching experience to watch. It deals with a brutal rape, a crime so horrific and devastating that it changes people’s lives forever. It’s an emotional violation that causes so much permanent damage to the victim that sometimes people can’t recover from it. It’s horrible beyond words, and it not only affects the victim, but everyone around them, as well. Today’s film explores not only the concept of rape, but it’s effects on everyone involved. It’s a brash movie, one that pulls no punches. Nor is it an easy view, either, but it’s certainly worth it for it’s uncompromising view of 21st century European club culture and the folly of youth.
In mismatched chronological order, it tells the story of a man named Marcus killing someone who he suspects raped his girlfriend Alex. We then go straight to the rape in question and stare at it for a nine minute-long straight take. We are then taken to the events preceding the rape, which involves Alex leaving a party due to Marcus’s rampant use of drugs and flirtatious attitude with other women. We then go to scenes before that, where Alex and Marcus discuss her possible pregnancy. The movie ends where things began, or perhaps where things might have been, and we are left in the darkness as to the history of the relationship, its future, or any discernible outcome of the events that took place. We are only given incidents, dialog, and characters without any clue as to what came before or what lies ahead.
It is a very difficult thing to watch. Out of all things, rape and murder hit deep into my bones. But even murder and violent death can somehow be twisted into a joke or turned so hideous as to make it comedic (see ANY Troma movie). Rape is incredibly coarse and unbearable to watch, and I personally felt a knotting up in my stomach as I watched the incredibly long scene develop ever so slowly. Many people feel that this is immoral exploitation, however, and do not see its artistic merit. I heartily disagree. There is a morality to the very essence of the film that decries against the violence by showing us the implications of such an act, forcing the audience to come to grips with the horrors of it. A rapist doesn’t hang around to watch what he’s done to the victim or their loved ones; he walks away and pretends that it did not happen, because he has afforded himself that privilege. An exploitation film doesn’t stick around and hang out with the bearers of such a tragedy; it just keeps on chugging to the next scene of unflinching brutality or sensationalist dribble. This movie makes us think deeply about the consequences of ruining a life, and there is plenty of artistic value in that.
The acting is superb. Monica Belluci proves that she is not just some pretty face with a wonderful and harrowing performance as Alex. Her bravery is on full display here as she strips down to a raw set of human emotions and becomes a person in the most vulnerable of settings. She has the role of a catalyst; all things in the film happen because of her, and as such she becomes a very difficult character. She embodies the elusive heart of the film, a heart that we witness to be very beguiling until the pieces start to fall into place at the end. I must also applaud Vincent Cassel as Marcus, who goes through a lot of changes in the movie. For all those who have seen Cassel in only American films as the vague European baddie, watch Irreversible to glimpse another side to this versatile French actor.
New French Extremity director Gaspar Noe is a man of great talent, and of an even greater desire. His desires are not like a regular director’s desires, though. Noe wishes to see his characters pushed to the brink; the brink of decency, the brink of sanity, the brink of life. He sets his sights on his cast like a bird of prey, hoping that their life may come to a grinding halt, literally or figuratively, that he might stop and muse a while on their empty vessels. Like his previous film, I Stand Alone (whose main character makes a brief appearance in this film), Noe uses the twisted minds of dark men to dig deeper into the human spirit. He asks, with a questioning glance, “How can we do these things to one another?”, and all we can do by the end of this assault on the heart is to shrug our shoulders.
I liked Irreversible. It’s not something I would be comfortable watching every day, for a strong desire to keep my spirits from sinking too deep. But it’s something that one should not be afraid to see. This is part of our reality, an existence that is far from perfect, and at times downright horrific, but a reality that we have to deal and cope with to maintain our society. Watching Irreversible might make you see rape in a whole new light, and if it can make you realize just how insufferable a crime it really is and make you angry about it, that’s one more person made aware of the reality of the situation, and that’s a strong case for what some have called an “exploitation movie”. I give Irreversible 9 New French Extremities out of 10. A high recommendation!
Tomorrow I check in on Billy Bob Thorton with The Astronaut Farmer. Until then!!!