Irréversible is not a film that most people will want to see. It’s one that is incredibly difficult to sit through, at times. It features rape and a brutal killing, and the camera does not shy away from showing these two things in clear sight. In fact, there are no standard cuts at all in this film. Everything that can be shown, is. Like I said, most people will not want to watch this film, because it is repulsive and will leave you with sick images in your head. You’ve been warned.
For those of you who do want to watch something like this, well, why? Simple curiosity, like me? Did me saying that there are no standard cuts intrigue you? Or have you previously heard that there is a nine minute long rape scene in which the camera stays focused on the two people for the entire period, as we watch a woman struggle for her freedom. Again, is it curiosity? Or do you just want to see if you’re strong-willed enough to handle this? Something else? Well, let me try to tell you what Irréversible is about.
The film opens with a man being dragged away on a stretcher, while another is handcuffed. On his way to the ambulance is Marcus (Vincent Cassel), although we’re unsure at this point why, or why Pierre (Albert Dupontel) is being cuffed. And then the camera spins around for a bit, and we see the two men entering a nightclub that only allows men inside. Take that for what you will, because describing what goes on inside this club, or even mentioning its name, is not something I wish to do. They’re looking for a man named “le Tenia”, although they don’t get much help there. Something happens, a man is beaten to death with a fire extinguisher, and then the camera spins around again, and we’re outside, with Marcus and Pierre trying to locate the club.
Their goal is simple and fairly noble, if illegal: One of their friends has been raped, and they’re going to go kill the rapist. But whatever happens in the nightclub is about as far as they come to retribution, because we’re only going backwards from here. We see what happens over the earlier portions of the day, but nothing that happens after the film’s opening scene. And yes, that nine-minute rape scene is included, and it’s probably just as bad as you’d imagine. No, you don’t want to see it, and I’m perfectly fine with admitting that the fast-forward button was used when I watched it.
I mentioned earlier that there are no traditional cuts. I’m almost positive there were, but they have been hidden with cheap tricks. When the camera spins around, for example, it would be nearly impossible to tell if there was a cut or not. And I’m sure that there were during the scenes as well, because they go on for so long that it would be nearly impossible for the actors to get through an entire take. We’re dealing with talented people here, but they’re still human. Regardless, the illusion that the entire film was without cuts is still there, and it’s a technique that I appreciated seeing, even when what it was used to show wasn’t always something you can enjoy.
Irréversible is a film that deals in excess, whether it be the aforementioned rape, the fact that characters talk on a train for 10+ minutes just about their sex life, or in the violence shown in the fire extinguisher scene. The points made in these examples could have easily been made in a far shorter time, and would have (maybe) made it easier for the audience to endure. It would have possibly made the film watchable for more people, but then again, maybe this isn’t a movie that a general audience should watch regardless of how long the scenes are, as their content would still be just as hard on the eyes and mind.
Like with most films that are told in a non-linear fashion, I wonder if it would still work if told how the events actually happened. If the couple started off the film in bed, and then the events of the day transpired chronologically, would it be interesting? I’m not sure, although I’m sure someone out there has re-edited Irréversible and made it chronological. Or maybe not, because that would involve watching it more than once, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that.
With that said, there’s a bit of curiosity that comes to me when thinking about a second viewing. The first scenes of the film don’t make complete sense without having already seen the finished product, and I ponder what I missed, and what would be improved upon if I decided to re-watch it. These thoughts are quickly dispelled when I remember what I’d have to put myself through in order to watch it again, but the curiosity returns again later. I think it would be more emotionally rewarding, (or devastating, which is a reward in and of itself, in a way), but it might be an experience too devoid of fun to be worth doing.
Everything aside, I do believe that Irréversible is worth a watch. It does carry emotional weight, and once it begins, you’ll want to see what events led to the ones you just saw. It’s tough to stop watching it, even if you need to cover your eyes during a couple of points. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, or even most people, but it’s an important film that is, at the very least, interesting thanks to the way it was put together. But, once again, I must reinforce that it is not a film for everyone.