Irreversible (2002)


(Streaming on Netflix as of 12/5/2011)

I swear to God, it seems like all of the most fucked up movies I’ve seen in the past 10 years have come out of France. What is up with that country? 🙂

Irreversible is a hard movie to watch. It’s a good 20 minutes before you can even guess at who the principal characters are and what they might want. Curiosity and appreciation for the stylistic elements of the movie kept me interested for 15 minutes, but I’ll be honest, I soon got bored and turned it off. But I’d heard enough praise to come back to it a week or so later, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. Which brings me to the next reason why this is a hard move to watch…

There are two scenes in particular that are extremely violent and prolonged, with no help from the director or editor in shielding that violence from our eyes. I found myself in the difficult position of wanting to escape this film but at the same time needing to know how it was all going to play out.

The main reason I’m even recommending Irreversible is because of how powerfully it deals with the subject of violence—in particular, the irreversibility of violence.

If you don’t want to risk spoilers, stop reading now. Otherwise…

The backward credit crawl at the very beginning of the movie signals right away that this will be a Memento-like experience, with the story playing out in reverse. It’s tempting to call this a gimmick, but like Memento, Irreversible uses this technique not as a gimmick but as a way to amplify the emotional power of the story.

Isn’t the tragedy of violence (whether we’re the perpetrators of it or the victims of it) that we wish we could go back to the way things were before it happened? Because we meet these characters in the aftermath, and then get to know them at the height of these violent experiences, it’s all the more poignantly tragic to then watch the normal and understandable mistakes they make that lead to these horrible events.

We also get to see just how fortunate they (and by extension, we) are in our normal every day lives. Watching through the lens of the tragedies that are to come, we see the little things that upset them—the bickering, the petty jealousies, the hurt feelings—for what they truly are: meaningless. But we also get to see what’s meaningful—the small ways they are kind to each other, for example. In a strange way, I felt as if the long scene at the end of the film with Marcus and Alex being so in love cleansed me of the brutality of the first half of the movie.

It reminded me that we are surrounded all of us by gifts, big and small, that we could appreciate if we just opened our damn eyes to it all. So maybe violence can’t be reversed but it can be understood and transmuted into a lesson of appreciation.

More info at IMDb, RottenTomatoes, and Amazon.com.

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6 thoughts on “Irreversible (2002)

  1. This has been on my Netflix line-up for 2 years now. I’ll try to watch it some time this month. (Didn’t read spoilers.)

    • Curtis says:

      I also have “Enter the Void” by the same director on my “to watch” list. So much good stuff on Netflix!

    • Curtis says:

      Hey Franz, did you ever check out Irreversible? I didn’t see it in your list of reviews on your blog, but I’m curious to know what you think.

      • Hi Curtis!

        A year and four months after my comment, I STILL have not seen it. Haha! Tell you what–I’ll make it a priority to watch it some time this weekend (and it’s a holiday weekend, too) and I’ll come back to this post! 🙂

  2. As promised, I saw the movie!

    I’m so glad that I did because it has been a while since a movie, a dark one, has enveloped my interest and senses so completely.

    I liked that the writer-director is so confident in telling his story. He doesn’t hold back with the images even if they are disturbing (fire extinguisher, rape). Like yourself, I did not think that telling the story in reverse chronology is done for the sake of a gimmick. Most of the violence is in the first half which made me appreciate the comedy (subway ride) and tenderness (apartment) in the latter half.

    Out of all his feature films so far, “I Stand Alone,” “Irreversible,” and “Enter the Void,” I think this is his most fully realized work.

  3. Curtis says:

    Cool! I haven’t seen I Stand Alone, but Enter the Void, while very visually daring, felt contrived and self-indulgent, and didn’t move me emotionally. Glad you “enjoyed” Irreversible!

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