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Film / Irréversible

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Irréversible is a 2002 French crime drama film by Gaspar Noé.

Events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse chronological order as the beautiful Alex (Monica Bellucci) is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in an underpass. Her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and ex-lover 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 a simultaneously beautiful and terrible 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 stirred upon release; out of the 2,400 audience members in attendance at its 2002 Cannes Film Festival premiere, 20 fainted and required medical attention, and somewhere between 200 and 250 walked out (which its French DVD release proudly declares on the back). The outrage was mainly directed at several scenes depicting intensely graphic violence that many saw as sadistic and gratuitous, alongside accusations of homophobia.


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.


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 brutally assaulted, don't violently take the law into your own hands.
  • 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 title, cast and crew, and poster text all have select letters mirrored, but not so many as to render the words unreadable.
  • Badass Bookworm: Pierre. As shown by the party scene, he's not receptive to any of the women Marcus offers him, but ends up violently bludgeoning someone to death with a fire extinguisher to save Marcus from rape.
  • Beauty to Beast: Alex's beautiful face is ruined during the beating and she is terribly disfigured. The themes of the film suggest Alex will never be beautiful again and have to live out her life with a disfigured face.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: "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 attack, 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 Alex 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 is also 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 were deployed during the more disturbing scenes in the film. 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:
    • "I can't feel my arm..."
    • The final scene (which is the first chronologically) has Marcus telling Alex that he wants to fuck her in the ass. Guess how Alex gets raped.
    • Alex at one point says to Marcus that she had a dream where she was walking down a red tunnel before it broke into 2 pieces; she ends up being raped in a red tunnel.
  • 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: As what he considered his own personal strategy to curb allegations of homophobia, Gaspar Noe includes himself as one of the patrons of the Rectum, watching the fire-extinguisher murder — while masturbating, no less.
  • 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 very beautiful woman played by Monica Bellucci, and 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 S/M club 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 appears to be in this when he finds out what happened to Alex. The prospect of revenge brings him out of it.
  • 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 is going to recover any time soon. Worse, the real La Tenia gets away with it, 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.
  • Drone of Dread: During the Rectum scene, the club is given its own leitmotif of sorts, consisting of one recurring note, bent higher 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: Tragically misdirected. The man being beaten to death by Pierre with a fire extinguisher. 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 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.
  • 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. During the brutal finale of Alex's rape, La Tenia pounds her face into the ground. It's at this point that, for the first time in some 10 minutes, the camera moves, and it's only to get a better look at what's happening.
  • 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 hardly able to move after she gets raped, and is in a visible state of pure horror and despair.
  • 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 a hard to see why Alex is dating him at all. A point lampshaded by Pierre at one point in the film.
  • 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 and 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 revenge.
  • Last Note Nightmare: The final scene has happy, upbeat 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 is quickly flashing his best part 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Le Tenia (The Tapeworm).
  • 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 patrons of The Rectum think a guy getting his head turned to mush with a fire extinguisher is the greatest thing ever and are cheering Pierre on! Either the victim was a horrid creep like La Tenia and the patrons really loathed him or they themselves are horrid like La Tenia. They 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-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.
  • Power Trio: Alex, Marcus, and Pierre; they're the three biggest characters and easily the ones we should care about the most.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Drama: The core of the film's plot is Alex's rape at the hands of thug Le Tenia.
  • Reality Ensues: Pierre and Marcus's Roaring Rampage of Revenge 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, ya know, murdered someone.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The monologue at the beginning of the film is delivered by the incestuous Butcher who was the protagonist of Gaspar Noé's previous film Seul Contre Tous.
    • There are lots of present references to Stanley Kubrick films, seeing as he's one of Noe's biggest influences.
      • Seen in Marcus and Alex's home is a poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Definitely an influence on the ending.
      • Posters for The Killing in Marcus and Alex's apartment.
      • Monica Bellucci's character, Alex, is named after Alex DeLarge.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Marcus' arm being broken in the Rectum.
  • Sinister Switchblade: Le Tenia carries such a knife, using it to force Alex into sex.
  • 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 "The End" playing over it all.
  • Unknown Rival: Marcus and Pierre are hunting Le Tenia for raping Alex, but he has no idea they exist.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The woman who tells Alex to take the underpass rather than cross the street because it's safer.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Gaspar Noe 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.


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