After you’ve seen Irreversible, you will never look at a fire extinguisher in the same way.

This isn’t just a movie. It’s a brutal and offensive assault on the audience by a director named Gaspar Noe. It was originally called Time Destroys All Things, which is its essential message, but the title Irreversible is an ironic twist on the fact that the story is told backwards.

Whereas this was a psychological device in Memento, it’s purely a narrative device in Irreversible, which opens with a mirrored image of the credits scrolling backwards and then skewing to one side, a hint that everything is going to go wrong. Well, actually, it’s going to start out wrong before everything repairs itself by moving in reverse to the starting point. The story unfolds backwards from its frenzied climax to its sweetly mundane opening, made sinister by everything we know that will follow.

The movie can be difficult to watch, partly because of the camerawork, which is like something Kubrick would do if the laws of gravity were suspended. Noe’s camera soars around like a curious insect. The movie consists of about a dozen long shots with a single handheld camera, sometimes mounted on a crane. There are long stretches where the screen is just a blur of color in which you can occasionally glimpse a silhouette or maybe a head. It’s also difficult to watch because of the digital effects used to recreate some astonishing and horrific violence. And even aside from the violence, Irreversible has one of the most brutal sequences I’ve ever seen. Or, in this case, never seen. There are, literally, a few minutes of this movie that I have not seen because I had to look away from the screen.

Is it gratuitous? Yes. But it’s not exploitative. It’s central to what Noe’s trying to accomplish: namely, to present a nihilistic view of what can – and does – happen in the world. You might not learn anything from Irreversible, which is arguably a pointless exercise in cruelty to the audience. I can think of very few people to whom I would recommend it. But you can’t deny it’s ultimately a successful and powerful piece of filmmaking that belongs alongside similar exercises like Requiem for a Dream and Clockwork Orange. Although I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it, I would say this was my favorite movie from Sundance this year.


I’m having trouble reconciling these two statements. Calling a film pointless and cruel is pretty damning, yet you then think it is some how successful and powerful and I’m just not sure why. You also say that “You might not learn anything” from this film. So if it was neither entertaining because you had to look away from the screen, and it was not enlightening because the message seems to be quite facile, and it was not particularly good filmcraft because the camera was spinning wildly out of control at some points, then what about it was successful and powerful?

This isn’t meant to be sarcastic, I am genuinely curious as to why in the beginning of your post you called the film brutal and offensive, but then suddenly at the end you recommend it.

I didn’t find this statement contradictory. I believe Tom is saying the film is successful in what it set out to do, which was leave a lasting impression on the audience – therefore, “powerful.” You’re confusing “successful and powerful” with “good.” A battle can be “successful and powerful,” but still an atrocity.

I think I understand. But then doesn’t “success” and “powerful” become drained of some of their meaning? If “success” doesn’t mean having achieved some level of artistic excellence, but instead is simply a utilitarian concept that means “achieves what the filmmakers wanted to do” then could Kangeroo Jack be considered a successful film? Every pornographic film would ipso facto be “successful.” The same would go for “powerful”. I understand Tom Greene’s Freedy Got Fingered left a lasting impression on its audience, but I doubt many would consider it “powerful” in the sense Tom meant about Irreversible.

Also, I think your analogy doesn’t work, IMHO, because a battle and a film are two entirely different things, so words like “success” and “powerful” have two entirely different meanings or have to be used equivocally.

It seems you’re applying your own assumptions about what those terms mean rather than in the context of the film’s goals. Yes, a porno would be “successful” if it pleases the target audience; that doesn’t mean it’s going to get a thumbs-up from Ebert – well not a thumb, anyway.

You’re trying to abstract the film into some pre-conceived idea of quality, based on what you think is good. There is another form of critiquing which takes the art form in its own context. I think we’re just approaching this from different angles.

You may disagree with the analogy, but compared to a violent film, I think it works just fine.

I’ve felt that way ever since I saw “Nice Girls Don’t Explode.”

Tom just means it’s a fun film.

So it’s gratuitous and pointless nihilism that’s an act of cruelty against an audience, yet it was your favorite movie? Either that means it was a lousy Sundance or my definition of those terms is messed up.

Why is nihilism even worth filming? How hard is it to film awful things and present a nihilistic viewpoint? It’s considerably more radical to find the good in the world and present something incredibly positive than to say, “Wow, it’s a really fucked up world. Here’s a bunch of awful images for intellectuals to sit around and derive great meaning from.” At least if it had zombies, there’d be better reasons for gratuitous violence. Everyone likes zombies.

Requiem for a Dream and Clockwork Orange were neither pointless nor nihilistic in their viewpoint.

Oh, and I wonder if it wasn’t French if it would be called exploitative and crass. Like if it was made by somewhat without indie cred (a French film shown in the US typically already gets its cred because, hey, it’s French).

What in gods name happens in the movie? You realize you didn’t include a single bit of commentary on the content?

Jack did a pretty good job of elaborating on what I was getting at, but just to respond to a couple of things from Jim and Guestacy:

Just to clarify, the camerawork was great, but at times it made the movie difficult to watch. There was some really good handheld stuff going on and some truly weird crane shots. When it needed to settle down, it did. But I think most people find excessive camera movement disorienting. This was definitely the case during long stretches of Irreversible.

Actually, as I said, I don’t think I would recommend it. A lot of people will simply find it offensive and pointless. Fair enough.

To me, it was a catharctic experience in the ancient sense of the world: a group of people sit down in the dark and watch something terrible, thereby purging their emotions. As a powerfully told story that’s difficult to watch, it’s a successful movie.

You’re implying it was an easy movie to make. You’re also implying a movie should try to be radical by presenting positive things. I disagree with both points.

For the record, Irreversible isn’t “a bunch of awful images”. It’s a story with developed characters, reveals, and plot points. It’s a narrative construct built around the title “Irreversible”. It’s a trio of great performances from three established French actors (including the woman replacing Alia in the upcoming Matrix movies) and a controversial director. To reduce it to “a bunch of awful images” is a weak straw man argument.

Also, Irreversible isn’t terribly intellectual. It’s a very visceral movie.

I never said Irreversible was pointless. I said that’s arguable. I don’t feel it was pointless, but I imagine a lot of people who see it will think it’s pointless. The dozen or so people who walked out of the screening seemed to think so.

I also didn’t say Clockwork Orange and Requiem for a Dream were pointless or nihilistic. I said they were similar to Irreversible.

Until Stefan pointed out the fairly obvious fact that it was in French, I had mistakenly thought Irreversible was a German film. I blame the director’s shaved head and his first name, Gaspar.


Fair enough. From your initial description it just sounded like your really suffered through it. Anywho, I think this is one I’ll take a pass on.

What in gods name happens in the movie? You realize you didn’t include a single bit of commentary on the content?

Intentionally. It’s basically a revenge story. If you want to know more…


Early in the movie, a man is beaten to death with the butt of a fire extinguisher. It’s one shot, no cuts, with the camera in close and every impact to his face clearly visible.


Is it Resevoir Dogs, Michael Madsen, ear slicing uncomfortable? That was disturbing without any actual ear loppage being shown. I may be a bit tougher than I was when RD hit the scene, but what you spoiled I may have turned away from.

No where close to comparable – as you indicated, that movie omitted any actual display of the violence (check out the special edition DVD for some goofy proposed scenes showing the actual cutting). Irreversible shows a couple of extended scenes of extremely graphic, horrific violence, all the more affecting because the characters are otherwise so well developed and likeable.

It’s an amazing movie – the best movie I saw as well, although not one I’d recommend to most people. Masterfully crafted, with great acting. The “memento” gimmick of showing the movie backwards worked very well (again), and this movie is much more coherent. It is unduly nihilistic, and I think it would be a better movie if it were less so, but it is absolutely unforgettable.

No where close to comparable – as you indicated, that movie omitted any actual display of the violence (check out the special edition DVD for some goofy proposed scenes showing the actual cutting). Irreversible shows a couple of extended scenes of extremely graphic, horrific violence, all the more affecting because the characters are otherwise so well developed and likeable.[/quote]

Did you two have any idea what you were in for and to what extremities the violence went to prior to the screening? I am not sure, knowing what you have told me, that I want too subject myself to that now. Resevoir Dogs stuck with me for a while as have many others including a brief nightmarish image in Event Horizon with a guy holding his own eyeballs in his hands. I am not sure I need more of that in my skittish little noggin.

As to the Special Ed. Res. Dogs, that and Glengarry Glen Ross are next on my list.

Sounds a lot like my experience with Very Bad Things.

I’ve never been in a theater so quiet (and remember, I live in Canada), nor have I laughed so hard, so abruptly after I left. It was mass catharsis. The 35% of the audience who remained for the duration of the film burst spontaneously into laughter once we hit the parking lot.

Did you two have any idea what you were in for and to what extremities the violence went to prior to the screening?

Not really. One of the beauties of Sundance (or any film festival) is that you can go in without having been subjected to any marketing. I even shy away from reading the synopses in the festival programme. I go into some movies not even really knowing if they’re comedies or what.

I knew Gaspar Noe was known for some disturbing movies. When he introduced the movie, he said something about about people walking out and someone having fainted in a previous screening. He implored us all not to leave. ‘Okay,’ I figured, ‘violence…’ Even then, I had no idea it was going to be as extreme as it was.

All offensiveness aside, it’s a stunning example of how digital effects have advanced the power of filmmaking. Dinosaurs and superheroes got nothing on Irreversible.


You can’t possibly be saying it is better than The Hulk is going to be!!! :wink:

Tom actually goes to unbelievable lengths to avoid knowing anything about any upcoming movie – I admire his dedication, but he’s a bit of a zealot, and forced to occasionally chant “na na na na” loudly at friends discussing movies nearby.

All we knew about Irreversible going in was that it was not English language (there are actually very few non-English language films at Sundance, relative to the Toronto festival that I’m more accustomed to), and that a lot of people were disturbed by a prior viewing. We expected violence, but that’s not something that’s disturbed me in the past – I dislike overly gory movies, like the Hellraiser movies, but this movie wasn’t gory – it just featured the most realistic, graphic violence imaginable. Absolutely terrifying.

As Tom indicated, it is a stunning example of how digital effects can be used effectively – for those of you that have seen Adaptation, it’s like the car crash scene, only imagine seeing the physical impact in graphic detail – then imagine seeing it 10 times in a row.

It’s obviously not a movie for everyone. I definitely wouldn’t take my wife to it. The film isn’t all graphic violence – there’s only a couple of incidents of violence (both prolonged) – but their impact is unforgettable in a well-crafted film that otherwise features great acting, frivilous or joyous discussions and moments of tenderness, and excellent dialogue.

It’s clearly intended to be an assault – showing the horrific destruction of beauty – and it succeeds brilliantly in that regard (violence without context would not have been as affecting), which made it the clear pick of both Tom and I (of the 19 or so movies we saw) as the best film of the Sundance Film Festival.