Irreversible ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Gaspar Noé’s work is greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud, who said that human emotion, thought and behaviour were driven by two things: sex and aggression. Both love and violence are described as primatial states, but when the two are brought together, Noé has created one of the most prolific and disturbing portrayals of sexual violence in cinema history.

His specific output of sexualised violence is delivered to inflict pain and shock audiences. Probably Noé’s most iconic scene in his entire filmography is from his second feature, Irreversible; A prolonged and hauntingly realistic portrayal of a woman being anally raped in a Paris underpass. The scene goes on for a solid nine minutes and involves the assailant brutally penetrating Alex before repeatedly smashing her face into the concrete floor.

Irreversible premiered at Cannes in 2002, dividing critics with one calling it a film “designed to provoke this year’s moral panic.” Although the scene is a shocking piece of cinema, Noé did not create the scene to simply gain attention from its shock value. His intention was to present the horrifying reality of sexual violence, revealing the most brutal side of the human condition. Despite negative media surrounding the film upon its premiere, the British Board of Film Classification decided to release the film without any cuts. This decision may have been greatly affected by a female clinical forensic psychiatrist, who advised the board that while the scene was horrifying it was not designed to titillate.

Irreversible is a claustrophobic film, the action that the camera follows is constantly moving at a rapid pace. Yet in the scene where Alex is being raped, the camera rests perfectly still on the cold concrete floor of the underpass. In an interview with The Modern School of Film, Gaspar Noé said “it was natural that the camera shouldn’t move”, thus explaining how the ‘paralysed camera’ placed the audience in Alex’s state of mind rather than that of the rapist. The length of the scene was a decision made by Gaspar Noé and the actress, Monica Bellucci, who plays Alex in the film. They decided that the scene had to be long in order to portray the horrifying reality of rape.

Noé’s use of red is stained along the walls of the dirty underpass, adding to the emotional brutality and violence of the scene. His ability to use one colour to express both violence and love is key to his illustration of the two basic drives of the human condition. Love and violence may seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, yet Noé displays them using one colour, suggesting a symbiotic relationship. Gaspar Noé is driven to tell stories of love and violence, his films hide nothing in order to access the basis of physical human interaction, creating a primal image of what it means to be human.

Daniel liked these reviews