Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel
Director: Gaspar Noé
Running Time: 97 mins
Irréversible is a French film about two men who seek vengeance after a girlfriend is brutally raped in a city underpass.
Gaspar Noé’s infamous drama has one of the most daunting reputations in cinema, known for its extreme brutality, darkness and scenes of graphic violence. But while it certainly hits hard on that level, the film is notable for an experimental style, telling its story in reverse chronological order, to a moderately successful degree.
So, there are two main things to talk about with Irréversible. First off, the film’s use of graphic violence remains enormously controversial, and form the bedrock of the film’s daunting reputation.
Simply put, Irréversible really isn’t for the faint of heart. Not only is it a devastatingly dark watch with moments of extreme violence, but the scars of those moments cut horribly deep.
With two flashpoints that feature a brutal beating and an unwatchable, seven-minute rape sequence shot in one long, devastating take, the film is utterly devastating at its darkest points.
And on that, there are moments when the film feels like it goes overboard with such graphic violence. The rape sequence is infamous, but it serves a staggeringly thought-provoking purpose, showing in brutal, unforgettable fashion the true horror of the crime.
The earlier beating scene, however, does feel a little gratuitous, lacking the same emotional depth, although it does come to play a role in the film’s deeper themes later on. Irréversible lies right on the line between provocative yet powerful and purely gratuitous, and discerning where it crosses that line is a real challenge.
Moving away from the film’s graphic violence, Irréversible deserves enormous credit for its bold, experimental style throughout. Director Gaspar Noé is no stranger to breaking apart the conventions of cinema, and he does exactly that here.
Principally through the use of a reverse-chronological narrative, Irréversible attempts to bring a new perspective onto a tale of revenge. Starting with Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel taking brutal vengeance, the film introduces the idea of the morality of revenge, by not showing you the reasons for it beforehand.
As a result, the film’s first act portrays the lead two as nothing different from criminals, and I found their actions despicable. Yet, after we learn and see why they take their revenge, my opinion on them changed entirely, showing just how effective and thought-provoking that use of reverse chronology is.
Now, unlike Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which also uses reverse chronology, Irréversible transitions between sequences in a rather more awkward manner.
Instead of bringing each segment before we jump back in time to a swift close that leads into the next section, the film’s main scenes do feel structurally isolated, clumsily finding their way into the next in a way that is often frustrating, and intrusive to the film’s pace and intensity.
What remedies that are the themes that run through the whole film, allowing you to look at each new segment of the past with the same viewpoint, as such bringing it all together in moderately cohesive fashion.
The exception to that is unfortunately the film’s final act. The first hour is a devastating whirlwind of brutally dark and violent drama, yet it all comes to a head with the infamous rape scene. From that point on, nothing is really able to compare, and it feels as if the film’s core narrative loop has been tied up within the first two-thirds.
As a result, the final third does feel a little tacked on, struggling to match the earlier hour in any way when it comes to real impact or intensity.
Where the final act does work, however, is in its attempts to make you reevaluate and understand what you’ve seen before. The actual narrative of what’s on screen in the last half-hour isn’t particularly riveting, but the way that it makes you consider the film’s earlier events is impressive.
With an interesting and strikingly reflective consideration of fate and the inevitability of time, Irréversible does finish strongly, with thought-provoking ideas that hark right back to the very first scene.
Overall, then, there’s no denying that Irréversible is a thought-provoking, uniquely experimental and unfathomably dark film. From its brutal violence to its dramatic intensity, and from its experimental structure to its clever themes, it’s a fascinating and powerful watch.
However, its most striking moments take it to a degree that can never be sustained over a full 90 minutes, and while the film’s core flashpoints are exceptionally bold, there are times where the rest can’t quite match the same level, giving a disappointing sensation of underwhelming drama. So, that’s why I’m giving Irréversible a 7.4.