Time destroys everything. This is the underlying theme in Gaspar Noe’s shocking feature ‘Irreversible’. Events unfold in reverse-chronological order that tell the distressing story of a woman being brutally attacked, and the immediate moments that precede & follow it.
This film has a reputation for its shocking, no-holds-barred intensity and for its main attack sequence – which is a 15-minute long, very violent rape scene. While the filming of this sequence doesn’t show things like direct penetration, it is filmed entirely in one shot with no music, and with only a slow distant humming of passing cars and a distressing frequency that drifts on in the background. It is haunting, brutal, and ends in a disgustingly fierce way. This movie earns 100% of its reputation, but it is an amazing piece of cinema.
Full of Gaspar Noe’s signature floating camera shots, disorienting angles, long-single-takes that cause unease, pulsing hypnotic music, colorful, flashing strobe lights, and even including an I-Doser audio frequency that is scientifically created to cause nausea and anxiety in the viewer – this movie psychologically and physically causes its viewer to feel distress and disorientation from beginning to end.
On top of that, the movie does indeed play backwards where it begins with the final act, then the transition is created where the camera flies around the city and through the walls to then show us how we got to there, and then repeats every 10 minutes or so to spell out the story. It’s not like ‘Tenet’ where things are literally shown in reverse, but more like ‘Momento’ where the sequences themselves play normally, but as they end the one that occurred immediately before it begins. On the surface its a typical rape-revenge thriller, but being told in this way is far more engaging as the viewer receives very tiny bites of info to build off of. Beginning with just a name for who the main character is hunting for, to showing how he learned the name, to showing the events that unfold, to showing the setup for the evening. The sorrow and fear that runs throughout gradually builds in a genius way.
As I said, the film is just as brutal as everyone says it is – but it is extremely masterful and beautifully done. This is a director who knows exactly how to make an audience feel a certain way and think a certain way. It’s absolutely brilliant, albeit absolutely disturbing. The rape scene is realistic and disgusting, and the entire set up around this scenario feels justified and coherent in its execution (to clarify I’m not saying the attack is justified – but it plays out in a way that doesn’t feel like it was set up just for the sake of film). Even though the filmmaking is extremely disorienting in the beginning and slowly becomes more traditional near the mid-to-end mark, it’s easy enough to follow without a re-watch and also rewarding enough to encourage a second play through if you are up for the challenge.
It is haunting, it is shocking, and it is stomach churning, but goddamn was I not disappointed. Out of the typical ‘most disturbing’ movies you always hear about, this one is designed to perfectly hit this mark even when you know what’s coming. The language in the script is aggressively homophobic – so here’s a humongous trigger warning in advanced – but you already know that this movie is not for the weak-hearted or the morally distressed.
If you want to really FEEL a movie, or have an extreme experience, then this is an amazing film. But I am well aware that a large majority of traditional audiences will feel violated and disgusted.
That’s just the Gaspar Noe way, and Goddamn, do I respect it.
‘Irreversible’ is currently streaming on Tubi, Vudu, & The Roku Channel.
‘Til Next Time,