A review of Irreversible (2003) by Joseph Suglia

Irreversible (2003): The traces of other films are indeed perceptible on its canvas.  And yet it is absolutely singular, absolutely unlike anything else in the history of cinema.

People go on and on about how “disturbing” this film is.  On a surficial level, the film is “disturbing,” of course.  But I personally found the film just, morally unambiguous, and even beautiful.

It is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful of all films.

The film’s message is not, as most people claim, that “time destroys all things.”  This is a painfully banal cliche, and, yes, it is plastered onto the surface of the film as if it were a wheatpaste poster.  The film’s reverse order gives the lie to this stupid cliche.  We are discussing a film that contradicts its own title: Irreversible reverses everything.  The film says: Yes, time destroys all things, but time itself can be destroyed.

Because the camera swirls around in a disorienting way at the beginning of the film (and at other points, as well, suggesting the reversibility of time), the spectator is initially unaware that the film starts with a scene of brutal vengeance.  Nor does one understand, at this point, why this vengeance takes place.  This effect of disorientation prevents the spectator from forming a moral judgment and either condemning or endorsing the bloody act of revenge.

The final scene of bliss (the “end” of the film is its chronological beginning) contains such pathos that it is absolutely overpowering: Now the spectator finally recognizes (a recognition that comes by way of a feeling) that rape destroys human life.  The woman who is raped, Alex (Monica Bellucci) is mourned at the close of the film (against Beethoven’s seventh symphony); her assailant, whose violation mirrors her violation, is not.

Marcus is Alex’s current lover.  Pierre is Alex’s former lover, an older man.  Pierre shows infinitely more devotion toward Alex than her boyfriend: He is the true spirit of revenge in the film.  Marcus, by contrast, is self-absorbed, stupid, and morally weak: Out of fear, he is reluctant to avenge the crime committed against his girlfriend.

Does Pierre resent Alex for having chosen another man over him?  There is evidence of this in the film.

If you are a man, this film will make you feel ashamed that you are.

In the bedroom scene, Marcus reveals that he is the rapist’s double.  Watch this scene carefully, and you will see what I mean.

Likewise, Marcus is quite similar to the anonymous passer-by who witnesses the rape in the tunnel (the tunnel is a figure that is used throughout the film and is evocative of the rectum) and yet does nothing to prevent it.

Those who run from the theater in horror are just as cowardly as that passer-by.

Dr. Joseph Suglia