Monday, February 14, 2005

Irreversible d. Gaspar Noe, 2002

In the first scene of Irreversible, an older man mutters that "time destroys everything." It's almost always a red herring and, without fail, a cheap shot for a director to supply the thesis of the film at all, let alone in the very first scene. Philosophically, it doesn't really matter anyway, seeing as that destruction purportedly brought by time is omnipresent in the delicate balance of life. Noe's film is a razor-sharp, violently monstrous object, tearing its way through anyone (anyone) that happens upon it. The narrative is reversed, the camera bobs and weaves while cycloning about in coldly calculated bedlam, and the visuals contain two of the most abhorrent scenes ever captured on film - the destruction of a man's face with a fire extinguisher and a nine-minute long rape scene. Consider yourself warned. That said, Irreversible is a remarkable film.

The first 35 minutes of Irreversible are startling in form - the camera refuses static, instead spiraling through corridors and alleyways in a controlled chaos of sorts. The point, I believe, is that it causes the viewer to feel as if he or she is on a centrifugal carnival ride i.e., out of control, but in a pre-desitined, decided manner. As with Memento, the narrative is reversed; the scene order flipped from to front to back. The nauseating camera enters right after - you guessed it - the immoral coup de grace of the film, the rape scene. And after that (that is, in time relative to the narrative of the film), a discomfiting quiet pervades. Each moment from here on out holds the thematic weight of the film.

The essence of the first act of the film is violent disruption, of both form and content. Vengeance overwhelms rational thought, nature overwhelms civilized society, and death overwhelms life. The second and third act of the film (cordoned from each other by the presence of Pierre) are earmarked by that aforementioned discomfiting quiet in which all sorts of parallels are drawn between the seeming peace at hand and the heinous actions prior. Marcus (Vincent Cassel) asks his girlfriend Alex (Monica Bellucci), politely as one can with this type of request, if she'd be up for some anal sex. She laughs and politely refuses, unaware that a complete stranger will violate her in the same manner later that evening. Alex and Marcus' post-coital play, even in its innocence, holds something of the rape scene in the mannerisms of the characters. Marcus, waking up from a nap, is unable to feel his arm - foreshadowing (or is that post-shadowing?) the broken arm he received at the beginning of the film. Alex even has a dream that she is in a red tunnel, reminding the viewer of the red tunnel in which she will be raped later that evening.

Noe's thesis (despite his temerarious interview manner and glib "time destroys everything" line) is that life hangs in a delicate balance between control and chaos. But it is not that simple either. Chaos and control both intermix with each other, leaving neither entirely free of the other. In this world (our world, Noe would argue - and I agree) something as dependable as time can become reversed. The final shot of the film shows an Edenesque park: Alex is wearing a bright floral dress, the grass is a saturated green, children play in the cool streams of a sprinkler. Yet all is not what it seems. The camera cranes up and we see that Alex in reading a book called An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne. The camera continues and begins its disorienting cyclone that pervaded the first act of the film. Even in this Eden, chaos is at work.


Blogger Quack Corleone said...

I think another important aspect of the film, and I guess one of its themes, is the idea that context gives meaning.

For example, the fire extinguisher scene is so brutal that we condemn, without hesitation, the actions of Marcus and Pierre. However, once we're shown the rape, the other brutal scene in the film, we gain an understanding of their actions. The victim of their abuse also becomes a abuser. And we begin to have the hesitation that we lacked before. The bruality of the assault, and all the details, stay the same, but we view it differently.

And there's also the notion that the future impacts the past, and that crime and punishment are circular. If the chronology is taken as directly depicted in the film, then the rape can be seen as being motivated by the assault.

'Irreversible' is a difficult but rich film.

16 February, 2005 21:03  
Blogger Michael K. said...

Interesting. Yeah, there's a lot there that Noe is working with. The more I think about it, the more I want to dismiss his 'Time Destroys Everything' line as bullshit. Gaspar Noe is one smug bastard.

I don't know if I buy the rape being motivated by assualt thing or the future impacting the past, due mainly to the fact that the guy who had his face concaved wasn't the rapist. Maybe as a connection though 'twixt the twain - did you notice how Le Tenia exclaimed "awesome!" on both the occasion of the rape and the murder? (And it just goes to show you where my mind is: when I saw the fire extinguisher bit, I didn't condemn Marcus or Pierre in the slightest. Am I some kind of perversion?)

Aside: I've read about 40 reviews of Irreversible now. The overwhelming majority of them (David Edelstein and Mike D'Angelo being the only two bright exceptions leaping to mind) call that terribly fucked up ending optimistic. Are you kidding me? Do you think Gaspar Noe is throwing the audience any type of bone here? There's NOTHING optimistic about that, in spite of the serenity of it all. The return of that careening camera assures this.

16 February, 2005 22:27  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

I'm in complete agreement about the ending. (And I didn't even remember that the man in the club wasn't the rapist!). I didn't find it optimistic when I watched the film, and I think it even less optimistic now.

I'm not sure if I picked up on it before, but when you mention the chaotic camerawork at the end, I agree with you about the it contradicting, or invalidating, the serenity of the setting.

If anything else, the camerawork makes a parallel between the beginning and ending, the 'dark' club and 'light' domestic setting. And, sticking to the context idea, it seems to invite thoughts about what happened before the film's ending (which would be the story's beginning). The entire film makes (or at least made me) question why certain things happened, and what instigated the characters' actions. For example, I wanted to know why the man in the club was beaten. And the ending, with its evocation of the beginning, perhaps implies that had we been allowed to "go back" another step or two, we would have witnessed another brutal act. Would the rape of Alex been put into some sort of context, perhaps if we learned that she had done something "irreversible" herself?

On one hand, I don't want to stretch the film and read into it too much. But, on the other, there's a reason the camera goes berserk at the end, just like at the beginning, that's more than just a circular motif.

16 February, 2005 22:57  
Blogger Michael K. said...

My take on it (and I could be way off) is that the camera at the end is solidifying what I find to be Noe's central theme: the inseparable unification of chaos and control. That is, even in this moment of serenity, of things under control, there is a chaos tied in that can bubble up at any moment. And it does (as we see in the rape later on.) The point is, even if 100 years of pure bliss preceded that final shot, that terrible bit of chaos that erupts is intrisic even in that 100 years. It's a messed up theme, and not I'm sure I entirely buy, but Noe presents it note-perfect. And like I said, Noe provides all kinds of clues for a time-based read, but I believe it's easy bullshit. That's the facade for what he really wanted to say.

17 February, 2005 00:27  

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