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Film / Irréversible

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Irréversible is a 2002 French crime drama film written, directed and edited by Gaspar Noé.

Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse chronological order as a beautiful woman named Alex (Monica Bellucci) is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in an underpass. Her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and ex-boyfriend Pierre (Albert Dupontel) take matters into their own hands by hiring two criminals to help them find the rapist so that they can exact revenge.

The film's unorthodox presentation enables it to show an examination of the destructive nature of cause and effect, steeped in Dramatic Irony as it reveals just how irreversible the events that unfold truly are.

To this day, the film is mostly known for the controversy it generated upon release, mainly directed at several scenes with intensely graphic violence that many saw as sadistic and gratuitous, alongside accusations of homophobia. Out of the 2,400 audience members in attendance at its 2002 Cannes Film Festival premiere, 20 fainted and required medical attention, and over 200 walked out (which its French DVD release proudly declares on the back).

In 2019, Noé re-edited the film in chronological order and premiered it with the subtitle "Inversion intégrale" (Straight Cut) at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival. Originally conceived as a special feature for an upcoming Blu-ray release of the film (similar to how Memento has its own chronological edition as a DVD easter egg), Noé found that once he created the cut, it was strong enough to warrant its own release. This version was released theatrically in France on August 26, 2020 and in the United States on February 10, 2023.

This film provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: After everything Marcus and Pierre go through trying to find Le Tenia (and no doubt all the consequences they will face in the aftermath), they didn't even get the right guy, and instead killed someone else they mistook for Le Tenia.
  • An Aesop: When someone you love is the victim of a brutal attack, don't take the law into your own hands (especially off of pure impulse), because it rarely works out in your favor.
  • Asshole Victim: The man who they mistake for Le Tenia and beat to death was just about to rape Marcus, so is hardly an innocent victim.
  • Back to Front: The whole movie is presented in this format.
    • Inverted in 2019's "Inversion intégrale" Cut (or Straight Cut in English).
  • The Backwards Я: The formatting of the film's text on its posters and in its credits all have select letters mirrored, but not so many as to render the words unreadable.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Pierre does a variation during the fire extinguisher beating, screaming "STOP!" in the suspected rapist's face and continuing to lowly growl it through the rest of the attack. Considering how non-violent and level headed Pierre is in the rest of the film, it's extremely frightening.
  • Bludgeoned to Death: The violent "fire extinguisher" scene, which crosses over into Pummeling the Corpse, if anyone cares to elaborate. Too bad he killed the wrong guy.
  • Book Ends: "Le temps detruit tout" ("time destroys everything") is the first spoken line of the film and appears in text at the very end.
  • Born Lucky: Le Tenia is not the sort of rapist who stalks his victim and plans the assault; he quite literally happened to spot Alex and attacked her. The attack happened simply because Alex happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the wrong time only by a very narrow margin; if she had entered that underpass thirty seconds earlier, she would have gotten through it and been out on the other side before Le Tenia entered, and if she had gone in there thirty seconds later, she would have seen Le Tenia beating the prostitute and known not to approach. He then proceeded to rape and beat her for nine minutes in a place where anyone could have discovered him and intervened, his grip slipped long enough for her to scream a couple of times, and someone actually did see what he was doing but walked away without doing anything. Despite all these opportunities to fail, he succeeds purely by luck. He also ends up a Karma Houdini thanks to a case of mistaken identity that he likewise didn't plan, and has apparently escaped the police despite not taking any precautions against leaving DNA evidence inside Alex.
  • Break the Cutie: Quite the understatement. Given it's not as drawn out as most examples and only centers in one scene, but it fits here nonetheless.
  • Brown Note: Infrasonics ranging from 22-36 Hz were deployed during the more disturbing scenes in the film as well as several other scenes afterwards. Reportedly, this was specifically for the sake of causing nausea in filmgoers.
  • Bystander Syndrome: While Alex is pinned to the floor and is quite obviously struggling to scream and get away, someone in the background walks into the underpass, looks at what's happening, and walks away.
  • Call-Back: The closing credits which open the film look identical to those from Noé's previous film, I Stand Alone, but they run backwards.
  • Call-Forward: Doubled as Foreshadowing in the Straight Cut.
    • "I can't feel my arm..."
    • The final scene (which is the first chronologically) contains several:
      • Alex says to Marcus that she had a dream where she was walking down a red tunnel before it broke into two pieces; she ends up being raped in a red tunnel.
      • Marcus mentions that he "stole" Alex from Pierre, with Alex refuting this by saying she's not an object and it's always the woman's choice, to which Marcus responds with lighthearted mockery.
      • Shortly afterwards, he playfully pins her down to blow a raspberry on her neck while she says "no" and "stop".
      • Marcus tells Alex that he wants to have sex with her from behind, which is where she gets raped.
  • Closing Credits: Following the backwards conceit to the fullest extent, the film opens with the closing credits, which run backwards.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Marcus swears when he gets in a fight with the Asian cab driver.
    "You're throwing me out of the cab, you fucking Chink nancy? Gonna call your slant-eyed asshole friends? Bowl of rice shit, hurry or I'll fuck your ass! Go ream your shitass genetic code. Fucking Peking duck!"
  • Crapsack World: While the first half of the film could certainly be said to take place in a hellish underworld, the film also gives us a look at a more innocent and idyllic vision of the world before it is shattered.
  • Creator Cameo: In what he considered his own personal strategy to curb allegations of homophobia, Noé includes himself as one of the patrons of the Rectum watching the fire-extinguisher murder — while masturbating, no less.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The man both Marcus and Pierre mistake for Le Tenia is repeatedly bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher until his head and face are completely caved in. And somehow, he's alive through the entire ordeal, gasping for air until the last blow.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Roaring Rampage of Revenge that Marcus and Pierre go on, which realistically doesn't go as planned.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Le Tenia rapes Alex, a woman who he grotesquely praises as hot. He's later found in a gay sex club participating in an orgy. However, comments he makes during his attack coupled with the extreme level of violence after he's raped her suggest that degradation and sadism played more of a part than sexual attraction, so he might actually be a Depraved Homosexual who simply wanted to harm Alex in the most horrific way he could.
  • Depraved Homosexual: One of the gay men at the Rectum tries to rape Marcus, and other men are heard cheering while Pierre beats the guy's face into pulp with a fire extinguisher. These scenes are the biggest reason why many critics view Irreversible as a homophobic movie.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Marcus breaks down crying after he sees Alex's battered body being carried into an ambulance. The prospect of revenge brings him out of it.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Pierre and Marcus's revenge plan doesn't go as planned as they end up killing the wrong person who they mistook for the rapist and their lives are completely ruined because they, you know, murdered someone.
  • Dizzy Cam: The camera spins around gyroscopically to make the transition to the next reverse chronological scene. It also barrel rolls during the final scene.
  • Downer Ending: Marcus is taken away on a stretcher, Pierre is arrested for his brutal murder of the man attempting to rape Marcus, and there's no evidence shown that a comatose Alex — or the baby inside her — is going to recover any time soon. Worse, Le Tenia gets away with his crimes, right next to the man Pierre and Marcus thought to be so.
  • Dramatic Irony: Everything after the ending. And we mean everything. While the chronological order of this film gives us a light-hearted romcom-esque story that turns south intensely in the end, its structure makes it so the despair we get from seeing how the story ends first carries on into scenes that would've normally been light-hearted but are instead so much harder to watch because the characters are unaware of what will happen to them. The chronological "Straight Cut" even lampshades this at the very end, replacing the original's text message "LE TEMP DETRUIT TOUT" ("time destroys all things") with "LE TEMP RÉVELÈ TOUT" ("time reveals all things").
  • Drone of Dread: During the Rectum scene, the club is given its own leitmotif of sorts, consisting of one recurring note, bent higher and then lower, in a cyclical wave.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: The opening credits flicker white and red, and the final shot strobes between a bright white sky and wildly rotating footage of outer space for one full minute.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The pimp with a penchant for anal rape is only known as La Tenia.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Pierre beats a man to death with a fire extinguisher, although it's tragically misdirected. It's like watching personified concentrated rage.
  • Facial Horror:
    • The fire extinguisher beating.
    • We end up seeing the results of Alex's No-Holds-Barred Beatdown following her rape when she is carried away on a stretcher; needless to say, they're not good.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • The naked Butcher at the start of the film.
    • The rape scene, which lasts for nine minutes.
  • Foregone Conclusion: A given, considering the story is told in reverse and gives us all the nasty details first, which makes it more distressing to see the same characters that we know will be victimized by the end interacting happily in scenes that would otherwise be amusing and cute.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Late/early in the film, we find out that Pierre was supposed to have driven Alex and Marcus to the party, but his car broke down. Had it not, he likely would have lent Alex his car keys when she wanted to leave the party.
  • Freudian Trio: Alex/Marcus/Pierre; Ego/Id/Super-Ego.
  • From Bad to Worse: Played with due to the reverse chronology.
  • Genre Mashup: An art film that starts as a horror crime-drama and turns into a romantic comedy.
  • Genre Shift: Goes from a horrific and disturbing crime drama to being much more light-hearted and humorous.
  • Gorn:
    • Pierre's fire extinguisher beating.
    • Alex's ruined face after La Tenia's attack.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Averted for most scenes.
    • In one case, inverted quite grimly. After raping Alex, La Tenia then kicks her in the face and repeatedly smashes her face into the ground. It's at this point that, for the first time in nine minutes, the camera moves, and it's only to get a better look at what's happening.
  • Hand Gagging: La Tenia does this to Alex the entire time she is being raped. Her muffled screaming can be heard as the scene goes on.
  • Hate Sink: Le Tenia, big time. He's a violent pimp who beats up prostitutes and brutally rapes Alex before beating her to a pulp. He's also a Karma Houdini who never gets up any comeuppance for his actions, instead grinning smugly when Pierre beats up another guy to death who he thought was Le Tenia.
  • Happily Ever After: Inverted to the point of being Anvilicious.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Marcus becomes more and more of a despicable person during his quest for revenge.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Marcus breaks down crying after seeing a brutally beaten Alex being carried away on a stretcher, and looks notably damaged when he is being questioned by a cop in the next (chronological) scene.
    • Alex is in such horror and despair after her rape that she is hardly able to move.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: Pierre is not receptive to any of the attractive women Marcus offers him at the party.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: The worst possible result of this happens to Alex, for nine uninterrupted minutes.
  • Interface Screw: The closing credits that open the film tilt slightly to the right until the entire thing is at a 45-degree angle. They then spin the other way until sideways and fly out of the screen, introducing the large amounts of Dizzy Cam to follow.
  • Jerkass: Marcus. At times, it's hard to see why Alex is dating him at all, a point lampshaded by Pierre at one point.
  • Karma Houdini: Le Tenia. After his vicious rape and assault of Alex, Marcus and Pierre track him down to Club Rectum, but they get into a fight with another man whom they mistake for Le Tenia while the real Le Tenia looks on with a smile several feet away.
  • Karmic Misfire: Marcus's fiancé Alex is brutally raped by a sadistic pimp, Le Tenia, whom they track down to a gay nightclub. They attack someone whom they mistakenly believe to be Le Tenia who tries to rape Marcus. His friend Pierre bashes in the man's head with a fire extinguisher while the real Le Tenia looks on with a smile.
  • Kick the Dog: As Marcus is taken away on a stretcher and Pierre is arrested, Mourad and Layde can be heard shouting insults at them, including mocking Marcus for getting his arm broken and asking him if he got raped like Alex. This is especially horrendous considering this entire situation is their fault for convincing Marcus to go for revenge.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The final scene has light orchestral music playing...and subsequently fading into "The End", a track consisting of droning noise that crescendos to an ear-splitting volume.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Contains this for Noe's earlier film I Stand Alone in the very first scene: the Butcher slept with his autistic daughter and went to jail for it.
  • Male Frontal Nudity:
    • The rapist quickly flashes his penis right after raping Alex. It's all CGI, though.
    • In the final scene, Marcus and Alex are naked, and although the camera normally tries its best to hide Marcus' parts, there are select angled shots where we do catch a glimpse anyway.
    • In the Rectum, director Noé briefly appears as a man masturbating and his penis can briefly be seen. Then during the fire extinguisher murder, a patron jumps down next to Pierre furiously masturbating as well.
  • Meaningful Name: Le Tenia (The Tapeworm).
  • Mood Whiplash: The nightmarish tunnel scene is followed by Marcus trying to get Pierre high and set him up with various women, which in isolation is a fun scene, but plays while the audience is processing the horror they've just witnessed.
  • Murder by Mistake: Pierre mistakes one man for the rapist that attacked Alex and beats him to death with a fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, the real rapist is looking at this altercation with a smug smile on his face.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The Rectum patrons think a guy getting his head turned to mush with a fire extinguisher is a cheer-worthy occasion. Either the victim was a horrid creep like La Tenia and the patrons really loathed him, or they themselves are horrid like La Tenia and may even be getting off on it as well.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Le Tenia beating Alex into a coma.
    • See the more specific Extreme Mêlée Revenge for Pierre's attack on the man about to rape Marcus.
  • The Oner: The film uses a lot of these. For example, the ten-minute rape-and-beating scene, which is all one long, horrifying shot.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: Ends with Noe's traditional spinny-cam, focusing on a sprinkler kids are playing around, only to grow in intensity and barrel roll into the sky, spinning faster and faster until it begins strobing with rapidly spinning footage from space.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Deconstructed; not only have Marcus and Pierre, two previously law-abiding citizens, flushed their lives down the toilet, they killed the wrong guy.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Thomas Bangalter, one half of Daft Punk, composed the soundtrack for the movie.
  • Punished with Ugly: Le Tenia brutalizes Alex and beats her face in to destroy her physical beauty.
  • Rape and Revenge: After she's brutally raped and beaten, Alex's ex-lover hunts down her rapist along with two criminals to exact revenge. It doesn't go as planned.
  • Rape as Drama: The core of the film's plot is Alex's rape at the hands of thug Le Tenia.
  • Rescue Equipment Attack: In case you couldn't tell from the other examples, this movie has a murder with a fire extinguisher. It's brutal.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Deconstructed. Marcus and Pierre set out on one after discovering Alex has been raped, and Lord knows they try, but a series of unfortunate coincidences and impulsive decisions leads to things ending up worse for them than before.
  • Sensory Abuse: Present throughout the movie, from the at-times assaulting cinematography (ex: the fire extinguisher scene) to the Infrasonics in the soundtrack to the ending.
  • Serial Rapist: During the rape scene, certain things Le Tenia says ("I don't normally like this") combined with his extreme confidence (putting away his knife as soon as he's in position, pausing to take drugs mid-rape etc.) suggest he's got a lot of experience at overpowering and raping women. Him being a pimp (and clearly a violent one) also lends weight to this, as pimps often violently rape the prostitutes under their control to break them into obedience and desensitise them to their customers.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The monologue at the beginning of the film is delivered by the incestuous Butcher who was the protagonist of Noé's previous film I Stand Alone.
    • There are lots of present references to Stanley Kubrick films, seeing as he's one of Noé's biggest influences.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Marcus' arm being broken in the Rectum.
  • Sinister Switchblade: Le Tenia carries such a knife, using it to terrify Alex into compliance. He puts it away once he is on top of her, as he has no further need to threaten her further once he is in a position to physically overpower her.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Deep into the cynical end.
  • Tragedy: The film has a miserable ending (both in chronological order, and in reverse chronological order when we find out Alex is pregnant) and a whole lot of heartbreak.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: The final minutes of the film, which contain nothing but Sensory Abuse in its purest form: hard strobing between the white of the sky and the black of space, alongside the deeply frightening industrial track "The End" playing over it all.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Alex, Marcus, and Pierre; they're the three biggest characters and easily the ones we should care about the most.
  • Unknown Rival: Marcus and Pierre are hunting Le Tenia for raping Alex, but he has no idea they exist. When Marcus first approaches him he even offers him poppers in a dazed state.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The woman who tells Alex to take the underpass rather than cross the street because it's safer.
  • Vertigo Effect: Happens twice in the film, first when Le Tenia and the prostitute rounds the corner, and later when Marcus snorts a line of cocaine.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Gaspar Noé is a fan of this trope in general, and the scenes of violence in this film are very disturbing.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Subverted in that Pierre, the one who tries to talk Marcus out of violent retribution, commits the shockingly brutal act that opens the film. This is only made all the more pointless and hollow when you go back through the story.
  • Visual Innuendo: The fire extinguisher was not chosen at random as a weapon, being a phallic symbol, hence the fact that Pierre destroys the suspected rapist's head with extinguisher blows to avenge the rape of Alex.