Irreversible (2002)



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18        97 min                          –  Crime  | Drama  | Mystery                 –              31 January 2003(UK)


Gaspar Noé


Gaspar Noé


Monica BellucciVincent CasselAlbert Dupontel


Irreversible (2002)

Irreversible (2002)

Events of one night unfold in reverse-chronological order, opening with events after a tragic rape, and then progressing backwards and backwards before the brutal act occurred.


I felt physically sick whilst watching Irreversible. But I mean this as the highest compliment possible. It is my belief that if you dislike this film because it is sick then you are entirely missing the point. Rape and violence on screen should hurt the viewer, if not, the filmmaker is in a somewhat ‘dodgy’ moral-position.  I confess, I felt a vile churning feeling in my stomach throughout and at some points, I closed my eyes; furthermore, I felt that horrific feeling of actually wanting to be physically sick, but being unable to. This is the most extreme reaction I’ve ever had to a film.

The ‘unwatchability-factor’ of the film is highly connected to its blunt, if not obvious message: rape and violence are barbaric acts and fate is inescapable.

The film is infamous for an 8-minute rape scene, where the camera stays icily still and forces the viewer to watch. It is often the case that rape or violence is portrayed in film via cheap gimmicks, no doubt used due to the ludicrousness of censorship-culture: the camera turns away and you hear a scream. Well, I’m sorry, but in real life, that’s not what happens when someone is brutally assaulted. The victim experiences the entire barbaric act, and it is morally-right that the act isn’t cheapened or made to be less horrific. Gaspar Noe understands this and thus makes the viewer witness the entire thing, thereby showing what rape really is. This pleases me because there seems to be a lot of ‘rape culture’ infesting its way through our world: people discussing the act as if it’s a joke or a game. Show such people Irreversible, they won’t be laughing anymore. I don’t wish to degrade the act of rape to something less barbaric or fun, but the only way I can describe the scene simply is that it is “the cinematic equivalent of being sexually assaulted”. That is genuinely how I felt. It is one of the most brutal and powerful scenes I have frankly, ever seen in any film. The scene almost (heavy stress on almost)  makes the viewer feel like the victim, Alex (Monica Bellucci), that they see on screen, as the scene is: unforgiving, uncompromising, brutal, and it feels longer than it actually is, and you will (horrifically) always remember it.

It is of course a shame that this is all the film is famous for. The film isn’t strictly about rape, or even violence for that matter. (This is 8 minutes in  a film that lasts for 97 minutes.) The film is about the inevitability of fate. The narrative of the film goes backwards. Thus, the point being, that we ironically know what is going to happen to Alex before she does. As the film draws to a close, it ends on her beginning the day, we now know everything that will happen to her, whilst she is blissfully unaware. The infamous 8-minute scene plays halfway through the film. Following this are thirty minutes of laughter, contentedness (and perhaps even, tranquility). It is endless shots of Alex, her boyfriend and her friends smiling, drinking and having fun. Personally, I found these scenes more disturbing than the rape itself – what is more disturbing: the concept of rape, or not knowing in the future that you will be sexually-assaulted, and that it is an inevitable event in your life’s own timeline? Those brutal 8-minutes or more will always happen to Alex and she will never be able to escape them, they are a fixed point in time. Thus, the film transcends cheap exploitation into a film about predetermination and a very bleak form of existentialism. Think of it as a very brutal Art-film.

When everything was happy...

When everything was happy…

Stylistically, the film is fantastic. Gaspar Noe is the most inventive director around when it comes to sound-design and cinematography. His camera spins and glides in a dizzying fashion through each scene, quite literally spinning endlessly around characters. You feel physically repulsed by the cinematography as the constant spinning builds up a sense of giddying, dizzying, vomit-inducing dread. The sound design is a consistent drone which adds to the visuals, but furthermore, it contains a specific-note which when played constantly apparently taps into a part of your psyche which produces that feeling of being physically sick. The film understands that depth and style must be combined together to make a truth. The concept of fate is thus interlinked with the feeling of sickness and revulsion, to make the audience contemplate the negative concepts and ideas that eschew from fate and predetermination.

This is a provocative film which is at once very intense psychologically and very intense intellectually due to the philosophical notions that it puts forwards. It deserves to be commended in the highest regards.

The spinning, lurching camera-movements in Irreversible

The spinning, lurching camera-movements in Irreversible

Atmospheric visual-flair of Irreversible

Atmospheric visual-flair of Irreversible


Perhaps one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. But also one of the most profound. Indeed, the depth adds to the disturb as it makes the terrifying sequences and concepts of the film stay with you. Irreversible is truly cinematic. Indeed, this is the kind of film which going to the cinema is all about.

4 thoughts on “Irreversible (2002)

  1. Yeah, this is a hard movie to watch, but it’s still a pretty thrilling experience to go through with. Even if you know that there’s a nine-minute rape-sequence somewhere to be found in the midst of all this. Good review.

    • He should see this film, maybe rape-culture might decline.

      Actually, that’s probably too optimistic. But, I think any man with the opinion that “no doesn’t always mean no” should be forced to a chair, and have his eyes strapped open like Alex from A Clockwork Orange and have this film projected straight into their retina…on a loop.

  2. Hi to all the true fans of New French Extremity. But this film I believe has past that point of category. And Ive seen Martyrs. And I thought that film was one of the most disturbing films I have seen. I first saw the fire extinguisher sean…. What the?! I stoped the film to go on the internet and see the making of it. It was the best special FX job Ive ever seen for what it is. But none the less the film hit deep inside my psyche & emotions. It might sound strange but its these kind of films that can hurt and be therapeutic, if you open your mind to the hard truth of it all. I wish america film makers would create films like these. There not just extreme horror films. But true in every way that they can portray it in and very detailed. Martyrs… Its all happened in our “Great History”. Very sad but true. High Tension. Woman with multiple personality disorder OBSESSED with another woman she thinks shes in love with. Then all the killing that takes place. Inside womans unborn child is killed in collision. Strangely enough the other woman is pregnant too, but her baby survives. Deep stuff in that film too. You can see it all for yourselves what happens with the rest. And these are just a small hand full of films by french directors. I hope one day I can be one of the first american film makers to make some of the most disturbingly gorey & realistic, but at the same time, very deep films of american film history. Thats my dream. To open peoples minds to the very hard truth that lies out side & inside of our mass silent corruption. Just wanted to share that with everyone. Now, how I come up w/ the funds to do so. LOL: P.S. Agree 100%.

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