If you’ve heard of Irreversible, you probably know of its reputation. It constantly finds itself within ‘top 10 disturbing movies’ lists but does it manage to break away from that and make for a good film? Having seen Noé’s prior works, I was already dubious over how well he could handle the subject matter. The result was even worse than I had anticipated.
Let’s start with the good; the backwards narrative structure works very well in the beginning. It feels essential, allowing us to see revenge separate from the crime that caused it. We see men acting violently and rashly without reason, their actions exposed to us as futile. They are using the sexual assault of another as justification to go on a violent crusade with no real end goal. It’s not just violence either. A plethora of slurs and insults are hurled towards minorities by these justice seeking hooligans. It’s masculinity at its most toxic and insecure. However, focussing on the men in this story was ultimately not the right call. The slurs also are a step too far, especially considering Noé’s wider catalogue of work. When treating minorities like shit becomes a recurring theme, it puts a big red flag over the director’s true intentions.
At the halfway point, there is an excruciating 10 minute sequence in which Alex is raped. It’s an extremely exploitative scene, with prolonged focus on the act itself and no camera movement or respite. It’s there for the shock factor, for the talking point of the film. As I’ve come to learn with Noé, each of his works contain these kinds of banal provocations and the more you see, the more tiresome they become. This scene is also our first introduction to Alex which instantly creates the problem of associating her with the act itself. To make things worse, each of her later scenes (earlier chronologically) revolve around her talking about sex or partaking in it with her body on full display. She is presented as the object of men, with only one scene that I can recall that challenges this. The deterministic lens revealed at the end makes this all the more troubling, presenting the story as something out of anyone’s control. Alex is denied the chance of a life after the assault and the film suggests that it was never going to be any other way.
There’s a shock-factor reveal at the end which exposes Irreversible for what it really is; another juvenile work consisting of contrived shock-factor and provocations. Sure, it has some interesting camera work at times but after one dose, all the nihilism gets hard to swallow, and there isn’t anything of substance to wash it down with.