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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.81%
Average: 22.12%
Pretty Bad: 6.73%
Total Crap: 10.58%

6 reviews, 68 user ratings

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by Collin Souter

"A movie that buys you a beer after beating the unholy snot out of you"
4 stars

It has been about five days now since I have seen “Irreversible,” and I have to say the jury remains out on this one and probably always will. The experience of sitting in the theater wanting desperately to run out in disgust overwhelmed any sort of intellectual reaction I might have had to the movie as a whole. As a whole, “Irreversible” works as an experimental visceral movie experience. It stays with you for days and days, haunting you endlessly to the soundtrack of Beethoven’s Symphony #7.

This movie will elicit a strong reaction from anybody who sees it. Some will denounce it as homophobic, nauseating trash, while others will deem it as high art that says much about the inner tragedies of blind vengeance (They’re both right). Yet, nobody will disagree about the first hour of the movie being damn near impossible to endure. Critics such as myself will give it three stars (or four, depending on where you read this), but that doesn’t exactly mean we liked it or that it's even "worth a look."

In this case, a star rating has no point. It says nothing. More importantly, people should be warned about this movie. There exists a perfectly good reason why people walk out on “Irreversible” within the first hour. It is brutal, sadistic, shocking, unflinching, disturbing, depraved, unrelenting, dizzying, nauseating, and damn near impossible to watch without wanting to throw feces at the screen, screaming every obscenity you can think of in vain and storming out of the theater with a feeling of self-hatred and loathing. I almost did.

Yet, the irony lurking in this experience is that I was better off staying. “Irreversible” tells its story backwards and by experiencing the shocking finale first, we get a better sense of the tragedy by witnessing the bliss of love in the second half. The movie ends on a euphoric note, one that should send a person out of a movie on a heavenly vibe. Yet, the beautiful and dizzying final shot only helps to make the first half of “Irreversible” go down easier. For this reason, if you decide to take a chance on this movie, you should stay for the whole thing and not run out. Believe me, you’ll feel better in the end.

What makes “Irreversible” such an horrific experience? As I said before, the movie tells its story backwards. First, we see the revenge. A man named Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and his friend, Pierre (Albert Dupontel) go through a gay men’s fetish club called The Rectum looking for Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), the man they believe raped Marcus’s girlfriend, Alex (Monica Bellucci), who also happens to be Pierre’s ex-girlfriend. Once they find Le Tenia, he tries to anally rape Marcus, but Pierre saves Marcus by bashing Le Tenia’s head in with a fire extinguisher. The camera doesn’t flinch and even though we know it’s a prosthetic head, that doesn’t make it any less disturbing to watch.

This swirling, spinning camerawork in this sequence coupled with backwards sound loops (not to mention the content of the scene itself) will make you wish you had kept your personal vomit bag handy. And it only gets worse. Once we go back in time and see the result of the rape, that of Alex’s battered, bloody and once-beautiful face, we feel a deep sense of dread as to what director Gaspar Noe will show us next. When we finally see the rape scene—a one-take static shot that lasts about 10 minutes—it further tests the audience’s sensibilities and patience. At this time, I started reaching for my coat and hat.

But I had to stay. I had to finish it before I could judge it. I didn’t think less of the people whom I saw walking out of this movie. They had every reason to hate it. I do find it a bit sad that those people will think that “Irreversible” only has those kinds of scenes. After the rape, we see Marcus, Pierre and Alex at a party being friends and lovers, full of charm, insight and good humor (all the actors improvised the dialogue). We keep expecting something awful to happen, but we learn that Noe gradually wants to calm us down and make us thankful for the happy moments we now have. Then, we go further back and see Marcus and Alex being intimate and loving. Finally, the movie ends where it begins.

I know what you’re thinking: “Memento”? True, both movies utilize the same gimmick, but the events depicted in “Irreversible” will keep you so occupied emotionally that you won’t have the frame of mind to compare the experience to any other. “Memento” worked intellectually and emotionally, whereas “Irreversible” works as an experimental film meant to send you on a roller coaster of emotions in reverse order. It also has very little in the way of mystery. Think “Requiem For A Dream” done backwards.

Unfortunately, “Irreversible” doesn’t work as well on the mind as it does on the senses, or at least I didn’t feel like pondering its fortune-cookie spouting philosophy on how “Time destroys all things.” Sure, when Alex says she dreamed of herself walking alone in a dark tunnel (where her rape, in real time, would later take place), we can’t help but feel sad about her premonition, but that doesn’t quite make it deep. The movie tries to say something profound about our destiny and how we can’t ever see it coming, but because the dialogue has been improvised, it lacks a cohesive flow of words to help expand and expound upon its themes. Instead, the actors choose to talk explicitly about sex.

Perhaps I’m not meant to walk out of this movie thinking about its deeper elements. Perhaps Noe wants to strap me down on a chair, like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,” drop chemicals in my eyes, torment me and make me sick so that I will see the errors and tragedies of blind revenge and unforeseen rape (No wonder he uses Beethoven’s music!). Mission: Accomplished. Perhaps the experience shouldn’t go further than that. And maybe, just maybe, this is one of the year’s best films simply because of its impact and not because of what it has to say about humanity. I honestly cannot say.

I remember a few weeks ago, I couldn’t get the David Gordon Green movie “All The Real Girls” out of my system, a movie I emphatically love on every level. I have seen the movie twice and I remember a time when I had the music and dialogue going through my head non-stop. Now, five days after seeing “Irreversible,” I can’t even remember what “All The Real Girls” feels like anymore. I know the debate rages through my head regarding “Irreversible” and probably always will. I hate to think a second viewing would be in order just so I could make clean decision on my overall opinion. Then again, sometimes, artistic trash shouldn’t be an easy debate. At this point, I’d just be happy to have the Beethoven tune out of my head once and for all.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 03/21/03 15:59:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/02/19 Tina Klaeger Watching the anal-rape scene made me want to submit to anal sex with my boyfriend. 5 stars
8/26/18 Jenna Chula I saw this film when I was a 14-year-old girl, and the rape scene made me want to try anal. 5 stars
10/05/17 Leslie Creeper "Irreversible" has an anal-rape scene with Monica Bellucci that makes me so wet. 5 stars
8/14/16 Muncus Difficult to watch at time but will sear a place into your memory like A Clockwork orange. 5 stars
5/06/15 stanley welles a powerful, electrifying work 4 stars
8/24/13 guts disagree with the 'our responses' the shit and we see the shit? thats not cinema 2 stars
7/17/13 Langano Pointless 2 stars
5/02/12 Marty really good. Acting and direction mostly great. Direction does get annoying. good story 4 stars
9/11/11 Peep Certainly well-crafted, compelling cinema for an older set 4 stars
7/05/11 Sudaca Euro show americans??? Noe is argentinian hence american. 3 stars
6/14/11 mr.mike Did not work for me. 3 stars
11/04/10 Coma Hard to watch, but beautifully shot and well-crafted. 5 stars
10/29/10 Karamashi Harrowing, hard to watch but good. Not enjoyable in the least bit. 4 stars
2/08/10 Dean m The whole film turns gay men into the worst embodiment of male sexuality... 3 stars
7/28/09 JW Noe means "No" 1 stars
7/01/09 ms misunderstood tragic story, very disturbing, monica bellucci, such a brave, great actress 4 stars
2/04/09 CineNatoning Who doesn't love this movie with all their heart? Shoulda won the Palm d'Or. 5 stars
4/09/08 Loz pierre did not kill le tenia, it was the other man who tried to rape marcus. look closely. 4 stars
4/08/08 Jack Sommersby Like "Kids", it's amoral and nihilistic to the nth degree. 1 stars
9/29/07 saurs What about the Cassel character wanting anal sex and spitting in Bellucci's face? 2 stars
8/22/07 Kim this film made me disgusted and thrilled to still be alive! it's just SO gut-wrenching... 4 stars
6/01/07 Carls Rating irrelevent. Credit due to brave acting but this isn't art. Ms Flinn, you're sick. 1 stars
5/21/07 sunny realistic work.powerfull.successful because it delivers the message that it wants to delive 4 stars
1/26/07 Artist Bill 2 yrs later it still shocks me to think of you 5 stars
12/08/06 llaith Cinima ultimately is about invoking a response in the viewer. This does. Worthwhile. 5 stars
9/09/06 Diane Flinn I have to admit that, even as a woman, I found the anal rape of the young woman so erotic. 5 stars
9/05/06 Shaw This is a disguisting movie i dunno what the the fuk is wrong with the director 1 stars
11/01/05 Indrid Cold Dark, arty, baffling, distrubing. Worth a look if you're in the mood. 4 stars
10/03/05 malcolm gratuitous, but interesting, only for the most jaded of film fans 3 stars
9/26/05 a. kurlovs a bit too pretentious, but overall well made 4 stars
7/09/05 Marc Nond Realistic, shocking, disconnected, the last half doesn't quite make up for it.. if u stayed 2 stars
2/05/05 Elaine Bradley I found Monica Bellucci's anal rape scene a must-see cinematic event. 5 stars
12/04/04 K. Sear Memento only more violent. The story is dull, ones attention is kept with flash. 1 stars
11/18/04 Carly Austin It almost feels wrong to rate it highly, but you'll never forget the emotions it stirs. 5 stars
8/27/04 WolfKitty Go watch it and make ur own mind up. 4 stars
8/11/04 Jeffrey Benedict Watch it and learn from it. 5 stars
8/07/04 Povilas Smolskas Disturbing, violent, gory, bloody.. realistic --> 5 stars
6/04/04 H masterpiece 5 stars
5/20/04 tatum Once again, Euros show Americans how to make flicks you'll remember, not "Shrek"! 4 stars
4/24/04 eddie moyer it was shocking and confusing at the start but overall i enjoyed it 4 stars
3/29/04 Ronaldo there was said, this film should be very violent... in my opinion it wasn't violent enough. 4 stars
2/04/04 Mark Mathews Your life will be better off without seeing this film 1 stars
2/02/04 M Ganesh If you are not moved by this film, then you maybe living posthumously. 1 stars
1/25/04 Julia Paschoal A highly disturbing movie and an amazingly well-constructed narrative. 5 stars
1/23/04 george gilbert One of the most brilliant films in 25 years. A masterwork. It tells the truth about t 5 stars
1/21/04 Daniel Hoffman Disturbing, yes, but brilliant. Give it a chance. I challenge you to not be moved. 5 stars
1/12/04 C. Marsh A difficult film to "like" but impossible not to be effected by 4 stars
12/30/03 jenelee i loved monica the rest of the film was pure shock value - no storyline , lame 1 stars
11/14/03 stalker Powerful in its visual appeal and unforgettable performances 5 stars
11/13/03 Jastin Kam worth to tought of your love ones 3 stars
10/28/03 joe m terrifying, astounding, mindblowing & thought-provoking 5 stars
10/26/03 Axel Chocking and disgusting, yet very well made 2 stars
9/18/03 John40 Best movie so far this year. 5 stars
9/16/03 paul f very distrubing, a gem in film making. so much form not much for substance. 4 stars
8/20/03 cory bilicko its effects are "irreversible." 5 stars
8/10/03 Rocky Masterfully executed, most intense rape/face bashing scenes ever, NOT a date flick. 4 stars
6/28/03 Sugarfoot Shocking, almost as disturbing as Last House On The Left... 5 stars
6/20/03 Poo Best movie ever 5 stars
6/07/03 Lisa Millar Stunning! Best movie I have seen all year- electric performances all round. 5 stars
5/12/03 Mitsaso Homophobic??U can see Noe jerking off in "Rectum"!!! 5 stars
4/03/03 J Bennett Damn disturbing. Damn boring. Damn hot Belucci. Damn average overall. 4 stars
3/26/03 Angolmois Limp wristed philistines will hate this movie, but it will stay with them forever. 4 stars
3/15/03 Colin Selby A WASTE OF SPACE 2 stars
3/13/03 adamndirtyape Unbelievable crap. 1 stars
3/13/03 Number 655321 Hot steamin' bowl of shite...Abusive and condescending tripe. 1 stars
3/13/03 mr. Pink Very disturbing, brilliant camerawork, deeply unsettling, great acting....Powerful!!! 5 stars
3/07/03 GD Williamson Witless, trite homophobic shit... oh wait, I mean "intelligent and deep". My mistake. 1 stars
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  07-Mar-2003 (NR)



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