Irreversible (2002)

One of the defining highlights of the New French Extremity canon, Noe’s reverse-chronological film about the repugnant extremes of toxic masculinity belies the fact that it is not just an incredible work of formal brilliance but a deeply human treatise on the permanence of action and consequence.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Review #2,251

Dir. Gaspar Noe
2002 | France | Drama/Crime/Experimental | 94 mins | 2.35:1 | French, Spanish, Italian & English
R21 (passed clean) for sexual assault, strong violence, nudity, drug use and coarse language

Cast: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Albert Dupontel
Plot: Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse-chronological order as the beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Source: Tamasa Distribution

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Highly Mature/Disturbing – Rape, Revenge, Time, Consequence
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

This is something that I wanted to see for the longest time but couldn’t muster up the courage to.  Having finally done so, I declare this notorious film an essential work, that is if you can will yourself through its most extreme scenes, including arguably the most shocking and longest scene of rape ever committed to celluloid. 

A defining highlight of the New French Extremity canon, Irreversible adopts a reverse-chronological narrative structure—following the footsteps of Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (1999) and Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000)—and it is this formal brilliance and the uncompromising use of sound design that proves to be a masterstroke in creating a deeply human treatise on the permanence of action and consequence. 

Usually, films show us causes and effects, but Noe is not interested in that; neither is he simply interested in the direct opposite, that is to say, effect and cause.  Instead, Irreversible through its stimulating engagement with time asks of us to see the impermanence of the human experience. 

“Time destroys everything.”

A moment of brutality can alter the course of one’s life, which is why if you keep turning Noe’s problematic text on its head (much like its dizzying, nauseous-inducing camerawork, frequently in pseudo long takes), it becomes a work about the repugnant extremes of toxic masculinity, not just on male-on-female violence, but also male-on-male. 

The headlining trio—Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Albert Dupontel—are extraordinary as they take us through a physical and psychological descent into hell—or is it an ascent out of hell, into bliss and joy? 

This is why I feel Irreversible deserves more positive critical attention—because it is a very slippery and elusive singular work.  The film sure is revolting, but when Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No.7 in A Major Op.92 – II, Allegretto’ comes on late, it all becomes purely revelatory.

Grade: A+




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