Irréversible (2002)

WARNING – Each numbered passage of text for the following appraisal is displayed in reverse chronological order in fitting with the film it explores. Should you find this approach confusing, then feel free to start at the foot of the page and scroll to the top for a more conventional take on its events.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

[13] To anyone who has accused Irréversible of being deplorable, borderline pornography in some cases, I would urge you to take another glance not at the sum of its parts, but the order in which they play out. It doesn’t build up to the sex and violence, as an exploitative film would, and instead, starts with the donkey punch to reveal its ugliness immediately, before dialing things back to show the lives that this vile act irreversibly alters. Thus from a moral standpoint, it’s actually spot-on, and all the more affecting for Noé’s flat refusal to pander to his audience. Like Srdjan Spasojevic’s similarly shattering A Serbian Film, it delivers us to a place where we have no inclination whatsoever to visit first-hand, spins us around on the spot until the bile starts rising in our throats, then leaves us to form our own conclusions, the way any thought-provoking piece of modern cinema should.

[12] There are a myriad of reasons why many will deem this film unwatchable and its unflinching depiction of a truly heinous act is just one of them. From the very moment it begins/ends, Noé is looking to disorientate us and achieves this both by flipping the narrative on its head and with the dizzying camera techniques he employs with long-time collaborator, Benoît Debie, underlined by the pulsating score of Thomas Bangalter. He wants us to share in every pleasure and pain of his protagonists and achieves this in a manner no less than comprehensive, strapping us in for the big dipper before pulling the reverse lever and watching us cluck like battery hens.

[11] POLIZEI! No wait, that’s German. Never mind, it’s too late as they’ve already nabbed Pierre and poor Marcus isn’t looking the best for wear after this deeply unsavory episode either. That said, the poor innocent bystander definitely came off worst, while Le Tenia appears to have gotten off scot-free. With all this palava playing out at The Rectum, perhaps we should head across the street to a dingy apartment and catch up with “the Butcher” (from Noé’s debut film, I Stand Alone), find up what he’s been up to. What’s that you say Butch? Having sex with your own daughter? Jeez Louise, perhaps we should leave that as another story for another day. It’s been quite a night after all.

[10] Marcus has now heard quite enough and hails a cab to The Rectum, with his discombobulated associate reluctantly in tow. The problem is that he hasn’t the faintest clue as to Le Tenia’s appearance and this leads to quite the case of mistaken identity. To be fair, he almost gets it right as Le Tenia watches on as this patsy takes a pounding. But not before breaking Marcus’s arm and publicly humiliating him in full view of the patrons. Thankfully the ever loyal Pierre is on-hand to pulverize this innocent man’s top box with a fire extinguisher. All’s well that ends well then, particularly for Le Tenia who just dodged one helluva bullet.

[9] The hapless girl is left comatose from this devastating encounter, leaving Marcus and Pierre to answer the police’s questions and let the intelligence sink in some. Needless to say, the father-to-be isn’t exactly thrilled by the news and the cocaine coursing through his system leads him to only one conclusion. It’s time to bash a skull until it is pulp and drag the increasingly fretful Pierre along for the ride. After a while chomping at his leash, the pair happen across informative street vermin Mourad (Mourad Khima) who knows Le Tenia only too well and has a fair idea where to locate him. Doing so will entail sniffing around BDSM club, The Rectum, a favorite haunt of his, and for a paltry sum, Mourad is willing to lead the way. After consulting with Concha who informs them that she too was molested by Le Tenia, the writing’s on the wall for this vile piece of shit.

[8] She soon rues that decision after happening across a pimp by the name of Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) who also answers to the name “The Tapeworm”. He is busy beating a transsexual hooker named Concha (Jaramillo) in a pedestrian underpass when she unwittingly catches his attention, and while Concha scurries off frantically, a shell-shocked Alex becomes his uppermost priority. Pinning the expectant mother to the ground with a magnum of force, he then proceeds to anally rape her, pummeling her pretty little face into the ground whenever she offers up resistance or he simply feels like it. This continues for ten agonizing minutes, until which time as Alex mercifully passes out.

[7] What better way to celebrate this life-changing turn of events than hopping on the Paris Métro and heading to a heaving party? Naturally Marcus’s best friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) isn’t quite as enthused, given that he and Alex once dated, and still feels aggrieved about the way his buddy snatched her away from him. But bygones should be bygones in his opinion and friendship seems like far too valuable a thing to waste so he takes this one for team Marcus. Speak of the devil, Marcus may have pushed the boat out a little too far with regards to mixing Class A drugs with a skinful of alcohol, and in light of the bouncing baby on the way, Alex doesn’t take kindly to his outrageous flirting with any slapper with a snatch. Thus she makes her excuses and leaves the party in full swing to walk home on her lonesome.

[6] Our story begins at the park, where Italian rose Alex (Monica Bellucci) appears not to have a solitary care in the world. Lounging beneath the blazing midday sun, perusing An Experiment with Time by John William Dunne, while surrounded by the joyful chants of children, she is the embodiment of peace and tranquility, apart from the faint echo of pulsing distant thunder. Just minutes ago she was perched on her bed beneath a poster of 2001: A Space Odyssey, stroking her tummy just to feel its inner twinkle. Dead set that she was pregnant, she breached the topic with her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and was massively relieved to learn that he’d welcome such a bombshell. He headed out to buy a bottle of celebratory wine while she took a home pregnancy test for confirmation.

“Le Temps Detruit Tout (Time destroys everything)”

[5] When attempting to soak in a piece of poignant art such as this and Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman, we are first required to disconnect from any sense of moral duty and allow ourselves to be hardwired directly to its brain child’s mainframe. We will bear witness to sights that will make us feel violated and angry, but taking that fury out on Noé is to miss the point in its entirety. Providing you can take a walk on the wild side minus compass with your chest puffed out, fists clenched, and here only to observe not crusade, then he will see that you’re returned relatively safely come the conclusion. Speaking of which, the ass-about-face nature of the film actually means he’s offering you an out from the word go should you be that way inclined. When you think of it, that’s a bloody nice thing to do.

[4] Can I be frank here? Noé’s head space is one messed up knocking shop for damn sure and I’m not altogether convinced that any stints in life rehab could cut through the mustard. Tormented? I’d guess so yes. However, it is what he does with that angst that defines him, and few filmmakers can claim to incorporate quite as much of themselves into their art as he. Irréversible was forced to deflect accusations of apparent homophobia and displaying a pervasive sense of social nihilism. Well I have news for his numerous detractors – some folk aren’t here to churn out fluffy pap for the masses – and if you don’t like the heat, then get the fuck out of the kitchen as some like it hot dagnabbit.

[3] Things kicked into gear for Noé in 2002, when Irréversible was unleashed on an unsuspecting audience at the Cannes Film Festival. Many were outraged (it’s worth noting that a fair share of these were female) over one scene depicting a man being brutally bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher and another that implicates us in the bruising 10-minute rape of its protagonist. Despite this volley of shock and horror however, it went on to scoop the jury prize for Best Film at the Stockholm International Film Festival, and amass something of a cult following. It’s no easy view, let me make that abundantly clear from the reverse gear offset, and chances are, you’ll come away feeling nauseated to the very pit of your stomach. Best be running those baths now then, that’s all I’m saying.


[2] Buenos Aires-born director Noé tends never to stray too far from controversy. His films are provocative, challenging and not designed to make for comfortable viewing as he has no intention of pandering to anyone and isn’t afraid to bend the rules of conventional cinema for the benefit of pushing the envelope. Enter The Void represents a magnificent achievement in avant-garde filmmaking (cinéma du corps as such works are labelled in France), and while the impact of his similarly controversial 2015 opinion divider, Love, wasn’t quite as maximized, it reinforced the belief of art house enthusiasts worldwide that his unique cinematic voice speaks unlike any other on the circuit.

[1] Films like Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible don’t come along every day. Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, it approaches its narrative in non-linear fashion, beginning at the end and ending at the very beginning. Ordinarily I don’t include spoilers in my appraisals but normal rules simply don’t apply here as Noé doesn’t so much leave you in the dark as usher you steadily back out of it. Thus I shall display each stanza back-to-front, and when you think about it, this actually makes pretty sound sense. You see, each of the thirteen scenes in this film are placed in reverse chronological order, so effectively I’ll be telling the story the correct way round. Confused yet? Well perhaps it would be wise to slap a warning at the end/beginning just to pre-warn you. Back in a jiffy.

[3] Thomas Bangalter Rectum

[2] Thomas Bangalter Irréversible

[1] Etienne Daho “Mon Manège à Moi”

Suggested Audio Jukebox

Stars: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia, Mourad Khima, Hellal, Jaramillo, Michel Gondoin, Jean-Louis Costes, Philippe Nahon, Stéphane Drouot, Stéphane Derdérian, Gaspar Noé
Distributors: Mars Distribution, Lions Gate Films
Studios: Les Cinémas de la Zone, StudioCanal
Editing: Gaspar Noé
Score: Thomas Bangalter
Cinematography: Benoît Debie, Gaspar Noé
Special Effects: Jean-Christophe Spadaccini
Screenplay: Gaspar Noé
Producers: Brahim Chioua, Vincent Cassel
Director: Gaspar Noé
Running Time: 97 minutes
Box Office: €5,800,000
Budget: €4,600,000
Country of Origin: France
Sub-Genre: Exploitation
Release Date: May 22, 2002
Number of Views: One

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #618

Read Enter The Void Appraisal
Read Love Appraisal
Read A Serbian Film Appraisal
Read Martyrs Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. This is an incredible work of art that you have produced Richard. I do not think that it could have been written any other way. I have never seen anyone take a complicated film set in such an unique manner and write it in reverse to where it makes absolute sense and flows naturally. I am in awe of your talent.

  2. Okay. I actually like non linear stories. The ever popular Pulp Fiction was like that. Mulholland Dr & Lost Highway are definitely outside the box. Now I am intrigued by this film. I will say you can’t tear yourself away from the Love poster. Normally, I don’t bulk at violence so this wouldn’t scare me away. This review was creative & well executed.

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