Irréversible (2002)

What came first? The chicken or the egg? Irréversible was produced and distributed two years after the Christopher Nolan’s breakout hit film Memento (2000), and yet both films have a lot of similarities with their stories. Some of the correlations include the backwards method of editing and presenting the story line in reverse chronological order forcing you to suffer through viewing a harsh and nauseating crime before seeing the events that lead up to it.

The first forty-five minutes of this film is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen on film with the one exception of the curbing scene in American History X (1998) or the knife in the cheek scene from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The brunt of the stomach churning events occur during the first thirty minutes before things start easing out a little bit and then throwing a knock out punch with a lengthy rape scene around the forty-five minute mark.

Here a few descriptive reasons why this film is so disturbing for me. First of all the most subtle reason is the use of sound effects in the first thirty minutes of the film. There is a low level 28Hz hum that drones on during this time that is practically inaudible for humans, but surely felt in their gut where they would begin to feel nauseated.

In addition to the bass level rumble noise there is the motion sickness photography that was shot on 16mm film and then transferred through a few photographic steps before being finalized on Super 35mm film to theatrical distribution.

The list doesn’t really end there. The audio turns your stomach and the photography causes motion sickness, but there’s also the provoked confusion with the reverse chronological storytelling. If any of those three things don’t urge you to avoid this film then here is the kicker of the whole shebang.

There is an shocking level of disturbing violence in the movie. It surely isn’t the standard issue violence that Americans are used to seeing in their films. Surely the Americans should be used to their zombie films and war stories on the big screen, but there is a safe buffer of disconnect between the story and the viewer’s reality. Not every American viewer must battle disgusting zombies or live and fight in a war zone, so their reality is far removed from what is seen in a film. However, for the film Irréversible we bear witness to real people in real situations that could happen in our own hometown.

During the opening moments of the film there are two of the main characters rushing through a gay sex club trying to find the man responsible for raping the girlfriend of one of the main characters. Not many people feel comfortable with the idea of a gay sex club, but these places do exist throughout the world and there are people who patronize these businesses.

As the main characters shuffle through the club they bear witness to some disturbing sex acts that several people would wish was left in the dark corners of humanity without seeing the light of day. Once the pair do find the guy they are looking for one of them bashes the guys face in with a large and extremely heavy fire extinguisher.

This violent act of revenge leaves the recipient with several missing teeth and a caved in skull. What really makes the whole act disturbing to watch is the close up shot of the victim’s face that continues on unedited forcing the viewer to watch a bloody act happen to an Average Joe who could be our next door neighbor as far as any of us may know.

These characters are people who we would meet in our own hometown, and the acts of violence that they commit are real life problems that we would read about in the local newspaper every morning. It is sad, disturbing, and all very true. There is no safe buffer between this film and reality.

We live in a harsh world, and I believe this film was designed to cut straight to the brutal reality in which we live. My final rating for this film would seem rather high to another person who would despise watching dark and disturbing films or is used to seeing animated Disney films. I have chosen to give Irréversible a final rating of an eight out of ten possible review points.

The film has succeeded in disturbing me right to the core about the events that occur so often in our world that we would tune it all out like any other reoccurring background noise. It is sad, yet very true.

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One thought on “Irréversible (2002)

  1. The comparison with Memento is the often made but what I find really interesting is the way they use the reverse storytelling in different ways. Memento uses it more for the plot but Irreversible uses it more emotionally. If you have the DVD of Memento you will probably have found the “Easter egg” giving you a chance to see the film in chronological order, it isn’t half as good. The really disappointing thing about other viewers when I saw Irreeversible is when they walked out. The opening scene is a real assault on the senses then there are two truly brutal scenes in the film. I could understand people walking out at that point, and a few did but more people walked out when the BBFC card came up saying the film was subtitled.


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