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Irreversible (Gaspar Noť) 2002

   

    Irreversible, the second feature from Gallic shock auteur Gaspar Noť plays a lot better once youíre able to take it a bit less seriously. Certainly thatís much tougher than it sounds during its first hour or so, which include some of the most graphic and violent scenes that I can recall seeing in so mainstream a movie. Itís not as if the director doesnít try his darndest to prepare us, however. The portentous opening credits screw with our mind and then each appear on the screen with an unsettling and clamorous jolt on the soundtrack. Itís obvious from the get-go that weíre in the directorís firm grasp, but itís never for a moment suggested that heís going to treat us delicately. A few minutes into the tumbling tracking shot that seems to last for the entire filmís running time (digital effects obscure cuts, and even when the scene changes, the momentum is preserved), a character laments, ďYou know what? Time destroys all things,Ē giving Irreversible a thesis from which it rarely budges. The effect of the tracking shot creates a movie that feels like a roller coaster ride through a modern, urban updating of hell, and the unbroken shots give this nightmare a lucid, inevitable, and inescapable feel that goes a long way toward selling the horror thatís presented.

   

    Noťís work in Irreversible is consistently astonishing on a technical and aesthetic level, even if the sound design sometimes grows a bit overbearing, even if thatís its intent. Still, itís the filmís structure that most impresses. It almost seems a spoiler to mention this, but I imagine it will be common knowledge soon if itís not already: the plot unfolds backward, roughly taking us from darkest moment to brightest. By reversing the flow of time in this film, he seems to be working toward a denial of fate instead of a surrender to it. By combining the filmís explicit ultimate message with the inherent one in its presentation, the end result ends up an odd melding of textbook nihilism with a startling dose of optimism. That boldly included dose of sanguinity is hard won and somewhat obscured though, and for many audience members such a minor conceit won't be enough after enduring what the movie dishes out. Irreversible seems more than likely to prompt wildly varying reactions from its viewers, with many of those conflicting thoughts occurring in the same individual. As much as I reviled many of its choices early on (the ďartisticĒ use of misogyny and the way the director uses gays, minorities, and transgendered people as shorthand to present a world gone profoundly wrong seem especially dubious), as I came realize that the film is first and foremost an exercise in style, I grew far less impatient with it. By the time Irreversibleís final reel ends, its stone-faced negativity has begun to chip, and as a result the film doesnít feel as deeply disturbing as it might have been if Noť were the complete masochist that the press has made him out to be. This time out, however, I was glad that the director gave us a glimpse of light or two along the way. His playfulness may compromise his vision of the cruel nature of fate here and there, but it also completely redeems what might have otherwise been an impossible viewing experience.

 

* * * 1/2 

09-20-02 

Jeremy Heilman