Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002)
Gaspar Noé, ever the provocateur, starts his film in what he thinks is witty and creative, but what I think is, sheer gimmickry. End credits roll in unreadable, unrecognizable fonts, with only a few notable names visible and of course, ending the supposed end credits one very distinguishable, very readable name: Noé. For those who are unready to face gore, violence, and cruelty, the name Noé in itself would have you fleeing the theater, or pressing the stop button of your dvd player. For those unfamiliar, the first sequences are enough warning that this film might not just be your cup of tea. Cameras revolving in mindless abandon, following an invisible force that only stops when something that is supposedly important to the story, which is told in reverse, is ensuing. It begins with two old men chatting and bantering about so-so philosophical talk, giving notice to the film's slogan: Time destroys everything.
The siren of the ambulance disrupts the chat, and the camera flies and brings us to a gay club aptly named "The Rectum" where everything and anything happens. After a longwinded introduction to the gay bar where the camera traverses the intestine-like hallways capturing men fucking and other private acts, we are introduced to the film's main male characters: Marcus (Vincent Cassel), angry and obsessed in searching for a man named Tapeworm for revenge, and Pierre (Albert Dupontel), the rational thinker who pleads Marcus to stop and just visit his hospitalized girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci). The entire prolonged search ends in an ultra-violent note involving a fire extinguisher and a man's massacred head, computer generated of course.
Noé brandishes his unique visuals, accompanied by a soundtrack composed of grating droning noises mixed with electronic music, and an introduction that will naturally attract our curious minds. Noé grabs us by our throats and forces us to strain our eyes, deafen our ears, and stretch our moral limitations with his film. After the violent sequence inside the Rectum, Noé stages an also-violent rape sequence complete with digitally manufacture genitalia and blood. It is quite obvious that Noé works in a purely visceral level, but the question remains, is there anything deep underneath all this violence, all this blood, and abnormality. Sad to say, Noé still remains to be just a provocateur, never a philosopher as Irreversible is all gimmickry and techniques masquerading as art.
Fans will defend the film as an accurate depiction of violence begetting violence, or that the film's tagline explains everything that ensues. I don't buy it. It's just a simple revenge plot told backwards with the intention to just shock us and in the end, shock us even more with puny regrets over a sideplot involving an unborn baby. The gimmick may have done its job, but without it, the story isn't really as novel as it thinks it is.
I also don't get it why Noé has to clothe the film a frankly obnoxious visual style. Defenders will say that it is to offer a difference from the chaos of the start of the film, and the bright, comforting summer hues at the film's end. Again, I don't buy it. Sure, the camera is less jerky but the visual style is still present. The camera still flies, sweeps and does complete acrobatic exercises from the start to the end. The colors may be different, but that is due to the fact that there is such a thing as day and night. Symbolisms may be abound, but these differences are merely skin-deep and not enough to warrant a visual style that promises something grandiose in content. The same can be said about the soundtrack: the film ends with a classical score as compared to the jarring noise of the beginning, any amateur filmmaker can come up with the same kind of cinematic metaphor. Noé still doesn't impress.
I suggest you see the film for what it is. Take away the fire extinguisher scene and the rape scene, and you're left with boring banter and some uninteresting improvision. Also, we get around thirty minutes of Cassel fuming mad with his mouth blurting out threat after threat to anyone and everyone who might stop him from his plan for revenge. Cassel, given better material, can add depth to the character. We also get a sizable amount of time seeing Monica Bellucci naked, or in various levels of undress, and I guess that amounts to something good. Other than that, I see Irreversible as a prime example of what I can describe as the new age of Euro-trash, films created to pass off violence, shock, and sex as art.