Irreversible posterUnrated
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Directed and written by Gaspar Noé


This is a tough film to review. High concept would be a blend between “Memento”… and a surveillance tape of an actual rape!

As in “Memento”, the story is told in reverse. However, “Irreversible” is much more graphic — especially the film’s notorious eight-minute-long rape scene starring the beautiful Monica Belluci. It even caused some viewers to flee, screaming, from the theaters at the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals.

The purpose of the film’s first hour is to evoke a horror at the brutishness around the tragedy. The second hour then fleshes out the humanity of the victim and other participants in the story. This is meant to create a poignant feeling of loss and sorrow that is encapsulated within the film’s theme — “le temps détruit tout” (“Time destroys everything”).

Unlike other dramatized stories of rape (especially on television), in Noé’s film you are forced to deal with the unpleasantness. You FEEL emotion without the intermediary of a pretty crime investigator subordinating our sense of the horrific with a few sarcastic quips to her partner.

In the end, this film is going be a different experience for everyone who sees it. It is definitely not mainstream. Most people will find it repulsive, but it is the second half which redeems it. Personally, I felt that the second half of the film created a poignancy that was effective. However, I don’t think it was effective enough to counterweight the first half. I felt manipulated by the direction and did not think, that in and of itself, the story stood on its own two feet. This film is not about story but is a directorial exercise in creating emotion within the audience.

“Irreversible” makes me wonder which is worse, subjecting one’s self to sugar-coated violence until violence doesn’t evoke horror, or subjecting one’s self to realistic violence and thus running the same risk…

Noé definitely pushes the boundaries, he is more than just a creator of shock cinema, but just making a film innovative doesn’t make it a great film. I’m giving it a C rating because it fails, but fails bravely and spectacularly, and that’s deserving of something.


Right from the beginning, you know you are in for a visceral experience. Bass pounds through the theater as the credits hit the screen in bold oranges and reds against a black screen.

The opening begins with two middle-aged criminals discussing how time has ravaged them and left them with nothing, but despite the unspeakable crimes they’ve committed, they still can’t help looking back with nostalgia and longing for their past. These are just outside observers though, and have nothing to do with the main story. A device to highlight theme.

The action begins with two men, Marcus and Pierre, being dragged into a paddywagon by French Police. This is outside a gay club/brothel known as THE RECTUM.

Through gradually unwinding flashbacks, we see that Marcus, who is the husband of Alex (Monica Belluci) is hunting down an unknown villain known as Le Ténia (The Tapeworm). Pierre, who is an older, more sober friend (and former lover of Alex) is trying to get Pierre to control his anger to no avail.

They have it on the testimony of a trans-sexual hooker that Le Ténia is at The Rectum and he is their best suspect in the brutal anal rape and beating which has left their beloved Alex in a coma.

Marcus and Pierre get in over their heads. The Rectum is a creepy sado-masochistic den with large muscled men soliciting them for sex at every turn — some more forcefully than others. Marcus gets separated from Pierre but finally thinks he’s found Le Ténia. However, in picking a fight, Marcus is quickly caught by some other men and is about to be anally raped, himself. Then, Pierre arrives on the scene, grabs a fire extinguisher, and beats out the brains of the man they think is responsible for assaulting Alex. The beating is slow, methodical, and very graphic. The man pleas, then goes into shock, then has his head pounded to Jello.

We jump back in time even further. Here, we see Alex leave a party by herself. She tries to catch a cab but it looks hopeless. A prostitute advises her to use the underpass to reach the Metro across the street. It is in this underpass that the rape occurs. Le Ténia is slapping around the trans-sexual hooker mentioned earlier, but lets her go when he gets a look at Alex in her stylish party dress. Pulling a knife, the rapist forces Alex to the ground, all the while, calling her a “rich bitch”. Not content with raping her, he pounds her face into the concrete several times in an effort to destroy her beauty utterly.

In further flashbacks, we see that Marcus has been making an ass out of himself at the party. Instead of dancing with his beautiful wife, he’s been taking drugs and fooling around with other women in the backrooms, while Pierre, his sober friend, tries to drag him back to be with Alex and avoid causing a scene. Finally, though, Marcus’ behavior puts Alex in a dilemma. She can’t let Marcus take her home because he’s a mess and she’s mad at him. She can’t let Pierre take her home because they have a history and it could either inflame Marcus to jealousy or give Pierre a false hope. So, she elects to take the Metro, despite cautions to “be careful”.

The film then jumps back much further to show the tender side of Alex and Marcus. We see them romping around, making love, and…


…we see in a private moment, as she takes a pregnancy test, that Alex is indeed, pregnant.

Another jump:
The last scene is a good one. We see Alex and Marcus on a picnic blanket at a beautiful city park. Children link hands and dance in circles. The camera spirals up and around to show the full circumference of a sprinkler as it coats the grass in a dazzling spray. The sprinkler moves faster and faster and the scene is caught like an insect in amber. It is a beautiful moment, full of promise for the main characters, and yet, with the knowledge we already have, it is terribly sad.

It is a very different experience to follow a tragedy in reverse. It creates a possibly more profound effect. However, it is only a device and cannot cover up what is a fundamentally simple, yet graphic, pulp fiction tale.