Dan gave me a copy of Irreversible and asked me to watch it and let him know what I thought. He said "if you can make it though the first 15 minutes, then you should be able to make it through the rest." He also said that I would probably hate myself for watching it, but that I might want to watch it again.
So here I am having just watched it, and for the most part he was right. I do have a desire to watch it again(mostly to catch a few things I missed the first time) but don't know if I'm ever going to. It would be hard to overstate the violent nature of Irreversible and aside from being hard to stomach emotionally the films merry-go-round aesthetic will have you running for the dramamine before you get past the title menu.
I'm generally pretty thick skinned when it comes to movie violence, I don't get offended too easily in fact I don't see much of a point to. Most movie violence can be chalked up to bad decision making on the part of the director, where graphic violence is a stand-in for content and craft, where the ability to make people squirm turns a b-movie hack into a member of the avant garde, this movie might easily be thrown into that pile were it not for a few saving graces.
Its not the first movie to play its scenes in reverse order. Everyone going into this movie will be familiar with Memento and its effectiveness in toying with the narrative to achieve something greater than the sum (or difference) of its parts. Irreversible plays a similar game but goes much darker than Memento's small town noir and sinks you right out of the gates into the filthiest pits of city's bowels(at a gay night club called "rectum" no less) the camera swirling around as if hung by a chain.
There will be spoilers ahead so, if you plan on watching it and you can find it, stop reading here, and make sure no women, children, small animals, or the elderly are around.
Irreversible's achievement is not in that it shows some sort of brutal uncensored violence, a man getting his head smashed in by a fire extinguisher, or a rape scene which lasts a good 8-10 minutes. Though these scenes work toward the movie's overall effect which is a sort of inverted tragic levity that makes it's subjects senslessly violent story all the more tragic for it's sequencing. It does this I think by offering the story in a way which forces the viewer to consider the plot a little harder, where we might more easily block ourselves from the violence were it edited more traditionally or chronologically, here the bath water is drained deliberately to reveal the drowned baby if you will.
With each scene the colors get brighter, the contrast is softened, and most importantly the camera gets more grounded and steady. Indeed those first 15-30 are pretty hard to watch in fact all we really get to see are colors and textures of a gritty euro-trash red light district the camera occasionally panning to reveal a harshly lit glimpse of violent sex as the character searches the corridors of "rectum" to find the man responsible for putting his girlfriend in a coma.
The first half unvenges? us back to the the rape/beating and it is this scene where we see the victim for the first time aside from a bloody mess we see being hoisted into an ambulance a scene or 2 earlier. Nothing that might take place in the second half could redeem what happens to her. There are moments in this scene where I found myself covering my mouth in disgust/shock one especially heart breaking moment when we see a figure enter the underpass where she is being raped and surveys the scene from a distance and promptly decides to ignore it and go back the way he came unnoticed.
Now that we got all that messy business out of the way we can get down to meeting our characters which are a young couple and their good friend who has come to visit them. The friend is the woman's ex-lover which might make for a some touchy dialogue were this not a story set in modern France where people are above getting upset by all that. The dialogue in this second half is another gem which redeems the film from just being shock fodder.
The story winds itself back up until we're in the room of the 2 lovers naked, gratified, just waking up, exchanging playful affections all is fuzy, warm, safe, and diffused, the characters are likable enough that you really don't need what seems like a tacked on bit about the girl potentially being pregnant. The camera pans out the windows and it's blue skies and infinite possibilities. A final shot shows our girl reading a book on blanket in the park as sunbathers and children enjoy the beautiful day, save for one last bit where the screen flickers and buzzes a bit to evoke the films violent beginning.
Played in chronological order it wouldn't be the same movie at all, and while the story isn't quite as nuanced as Memento, i think it deserves its own special place into the world of non-traditional narratives. While its reverse approach might originally be merely stylistic in nature it does achieve something original and thought provoking.
Once the senseless violence of the world swallows you up there's little left but to be shot out the other side bearing hardly a resemblance to the ripe fruit you may have been going in. A process which is Irreversible.