JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Irreversible (Director/Screenwriter: Gaspar Noé) - February 20, 2003


1 1
99 min.


“Revenge is a human need.”

From the closing-opening credits punctuated by monotonous tympani strokes to the gratuitous insertion of Beethoven’s sublime Seventh Symphony “Allegretto” (echoing the equally cheap steal in 9 Dead Gay Guys) to bring warm feelings of Alex’s (the stunning Monica Bellucci) ill-fated pregnancy and thus setting up the ode to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey baby-to-white-light shot, writer/director Gaspar Noé has utterly failed to deliver his vision, subtext or artistry.

For others to compare this cinematic disaster to Christopher Nolan’s thought-provoking Memento just because the reverse narrative technique is similar, is an insult of the highest order.

The initial camera work, soaring from ceiling to floor to lights, hovering around the naked-old-dad confessing his incestuous relationship with his daughter held our curiosity; and the aural glue of the police sirens provided a seamless transition to the action a couple of stories below at the seedy gay bar, but once through the doors of this way-too-on-the-nose “RECTUM,” (name of the establishment) everything went downhill (oops, that would be uphill in reverse!).

There being so little story in the first place, it gives nothing away to reveal that Marcus (Vincent Cassel, who convinces as the party animal, but doesn’t fare as well as the enraged lover) and his angst-filled buddy, Pierre (Albert Dupontel—former lover of Alex—gets to deliver a near-soliloquy on orgasm to his friends during a subway ride that is about as interesting to their fellow travellers as the uninspired shots that capture it) descend into this cliché-jammed sex club to punish the anal rapist of their sometime paramour.

And this is where Noé slips off the credibility track and never returns. Two fully clothed, testosterone-reeking straight guys would not be permitted to roam the dark rooms, glory holes, slurp ramps and “toys” cavern unchallenged. To make matters even more incongruous, some of the regulars are script-forced to solicit the avengers for fisting, fucking or cocktails. Obviously, gay men are as stupid as they are perverted.

But things only get worse. When finally cornered, the evil-doer breaks Marcus’ arm in a flash (ever the stoic, he just lies quietly in shock as pants are removed prior to the “teach-you-a-lesson” fuck, much to the anticipated delight of the gallery strokers) only to be bashed in the head TWENTY-FIVE times by the sexually-confused Pierre. Freud would be blushing with pride.

Let’s be clear: tough as it was to watch, I didn’t find the graphic head-splitting offensive (I do watch the news), but any glimmer of truth had already disappeared with this zoo-like portrayal of those who prefer same-sex release. And where was the condom shot?

As the story regressed, my interest in the characters dissipated in concert. The set-up for the rape was far too contrived—metaphor or not. Alex, fed up with the actions and attitudes of her man at a “swinging” house party (coke and blow jobs in the can; humping in the coat room), decides to go home alone. Conveniently, Marcus is impotent (as he was earlier—later in bed with his gorgeous partner, he’s unable to achieve erection even as he tries to find his way up her forbidden tunnel—so, only gay men are shown with stiffies?) and does nothing to stop her.

In order to lead his victim into harm’s way, Alex—when she calls out for a cab on the wide boulevard—decides to take the giveaway advice of a colleague “use the passageway, it’s much safer,” and, right on cue, goes down to meet her doom.

During this attack—the depiction is brutally disturbing (but, finally—with a telling shot of a passerby who takes a quick look and decides not to get involved—there’s a rare moment of truth), its contrivance makes the pummelling more an endurance than sensibility test.

What remains is all front-story (with never a sub-plot to balance or intrigue). The best moment of this failed flick occurs when the army of whores chase Marcus and Pierre into a cab as the guilty lover tries to beat the location of Alex’s assailant out of a transsexual co-worker (nice proof shot, Neil Jordan would beam). Fortunately, the cabbie is Asian, which allows Noé to display his considerable racist comments through the mouth of the revenge-maddened coke-head.

But the film does make one point beautifully: no matter which way a story is told, a bad script cannot be salvaged. JWR

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