Those who are up to the task of enduring Irreversible will find much of worth in the experience. But those who can’t take the extreme, in this case an almost ten minute on-screen rape and the brutal murder of a man by fire extinguisher to the head, will no doubt stop watching before the conclusion of scene one.
Irreversible is told in a backwards fashion, meaning that we see the end credits scroll up the screen at the very beginning followed by what we quickly realise is the end scene and the film then works its way backwards, revealing reasons for actions and events that we’ve already witnessed.
This is one of those movies that lives up to one of the bold labels that it’s been given in many places. “One of the most controversial films of all time,” is certainly a fitting description for Irreversible; it contains a couple of scenes in particular, which I’ve already mentioned, that are bordering on unbearable. When the camera fixates on a man’s head being bashed in by a fire extinguisher literally until there’s nothing left of his face, it's jaw-dropping indeed. And that’s just in the first scene, believe it or not. But dare I say that is child’s play when compared to the horrific, nearly ten minute rape scene which we are forced to endure around the halfway point.
Monica Belluci plays the victim of this horrific scene, and much props to her for even agreeing to do it, never mind giving such a fantastically believable performance. Trivia about the film tells us that the two actors involved in this scene were only really given one instruction; to make it last no longer than twenty minutes. But it goes on far too long as it stands at just under ten. I don’t see why it had to last as long as it did; writer/director Gaspar Noe’s point was put firmly across even at halfway through. I didn’t see a need for it to stretch on for the length that it did. Nonetheless it’s wholly powerful stuff… well, what I could see through my fingers or squinted eyes. It really is that tough to watch, and I commend anyone who is able to get through it.
Noe’s intention here was not to make just a revenge flick with a neat storytelling technique. Nor was it just to have shocking scenes in full view and expect credit for having the courage to include them. Its reverse chronological order makes for more of an interesting experience than most other films, and if it were in the correct order the film would have come off as exploitative. But in its reverse order it manages to underline why the things it deals with, such as rape and murder, are horrific things instead of condoning them.
The graphic nature of some of the scenes is a cut above most other filmmakers in the business, a level not even achieved by the likes of Scorsese or Cronenberg. I guess the closest thing you could compare to Irreversible is the work of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, but even then his films are rarely as realistic and believable as this. As a fan of cinema which pushes boundaries I found a lot in Irreversible to gnaw on, but I will probably be in the minority with my success in making it to the end.
The achievement of such a powerful and visceral experience is down to the stylistic elements that are employed. The reversing of the order of events, the swirling and erratic nature of the camera, and of course the violent occurrences all add up to something that isn’t easily forgotten. While watching the film it isn’t easy to like the characters, particularly Vincent Cassel, who gives a fantastic performance as a man who we see in a violent, searching rage pretty much from the start, yet we still care about what they do and why they’re doing it. As Cassel trundles through a gay sex club (another element which is bound to stir up controversy as a notion on its own) asking anyone and everyone he can find where a certain someone is we are automatically intrigued about who he’s after and more specifically why he’s after him. And this is largely down to the fact we know practically nothing of the overall story at this point because of the reverse order of things.
Irreversible should come with a warning label; I guarantee that the majority of people who sit down to watch this, not knowing what they’re letting themselves in for, will be shocked and offended to no end. But I encourage you to keep watching past its shocking opening scenes, to experience the whole thing in its entirety before you decide what your opinion of it is. If I were to judge Irreversible on pure enjoyment, something which most average movie-goers do in general, I would say it’s definitely not a positive experience. But sometimes a film is about much more than enjoyment and I sincerely hope people can see past its shocking top layer to what it truly has to offer. Whatever you think of Irreversible, one thing I think we can all agree on is that it is one unforgettable motion picture.