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 | Category: film
entry May 29 2009, 12:38 AM

it may be difficult to understand the mechanics of the film without a synopsis one can be found here

one thing i always like is when the opening credits really set the stage for a film. the opening credits for irreversible certainly does that. it starts with the end credits, copyrights etc, and goes backward, words and letters backwards, practically illegible inspite of the bold typeface. just like the film, those credits slide out of control, angling, curving to the left before ending up horizontal. just like the camera work. the cinematography is something elsem and very complex. it's construction is much like the work of julian temple-- who did the film young americans and the janet jackson video, when i think of you. the editing is made invisible, so it looks like one continuous shot. from the first scene we are disoriented, the camera swoops, swirls, shows us things that make no sense. we see people upside down, flipping as if going down a drain. what's more it's progression going from dizzy making at the start, or end of the night to the conventional camera movement of the end/beginning of the story almost makes this a case for a decent into hell. as things spiral further out of control, the camera does more acrobatics, and when the two male characters draw closer to the club that will seal their fate, the camera likes to slide to one side-- and extreme dutch angle, as if they were walking down a steep inline. into the gates-- or rectum (the name of a club) of hell.

i'd been dreading watching irreversable-- the film is infamous for it's single take rape scene, but that is certainly not the most violent part of the film. although it comes pretty close. what's worse, when the violence gets really intense, the camera finally snaps into focus, as if that's what the viewer was waiting for. trust me, long before the rape scene, one is very tired of violence. not to mention any kind of sex-- the opening scene is related only in that it connects to the themes of violation, sex, and guilt, has two men talking, rather blandly about how one man raped his daughter(a bit of intertexuality here. he's a character-- and actor-- from another gaspar noe film, i stand alone, who has only the apt name, "the butcher."*), and now he can't forget it, while the other one jokingly tries to comfort him, saying "there are no bad or good acts, just acts." what follows, makes it hard to agree with him. but it does set up the sort of "play" that director noe is inflicting on the audience: balancing fatalism against memory. the strange thing is that irreversable's structure-- we see the whole thing backwards, like memento, each scene leading taking us back in time-- strangely blunts the violence. if that sounds like a cop out, i don't think that it is....exactly. instead of showing the scenes over and over visually, in playing the scenes backward, the viewer is forced to play the violence over in their head. if you've seen quinton tarantino's death proof, he did something similar, if more literal, (and a bit more sickening, if you ask me) in the first 1/3 of his film, showing the violence over and over and over, until it becomes unwatchable. unfortunately (or fortunately for the viewer), trying to keep up with the chronology can be a distraction, although something replaces the visceral immediacy of the violence once it's off screen: a fatalistic dread. this is where that playing the scenes over in your head comes in and bites you on the ass. as we pull away from the violence earlier in the film an arm broken, and a man's face smashed in (literally and quite graphically) by the blunt end of a fire extinguisher and towards the violence of the rape scene, violence upon violence piles up. it is only after that scene that we get some respite. i say some because, once we've arrived at the safety of "before" we start to see foreshadowing of the events that will conclude and destroy what was supposed to be a beautiful, happy evening. we see how all of the players played their parts, culminating in the trainwreck of destruction.

that fatalism, while it worked in memento as a device to ratchet up the tension in a noir mystery, in irreversable, it ends up relieving any of the characters-- including the rapist-- of any responsiblity. the whole thing was preordained, as the man in the room says, there are "just acts." one of the themes is that "time destroys everything" a phrase flashed at the end of the movie, and taken from a book mentioned by alex (played by bellucci). i can see how that might justify the backward sequencing, but it puts the emphasis on cause and effect, rather than choice, a strange way to go about making a film that has rape in it. is alex's rape the result of her sexuality and her display at the party or just a combined series of events? is it her independence for leaving the party without her asshole boyfriend, or just because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time? cause and effect in film implies that there is no choice in film, that the people populating the screen have no more choice that figures that zoom in and out of a cuckoo clock. yet, alex says, the woman always chooses. but then says everything is preordained. perhaps it's just my moralizing but in a film with such violence, it seems strange that the director seems to simply shrug. usually in a film on the subject of film violence, the viewer is solidly implicated. that holds true here, although i a strange, muted way. played forward, it would be hard not to be drawn to alex/monica belucci's sexuality, and that is the usual trap. the audience is drawn in by her beauty and seeing her objectified, and then the director springs the trap. it worked for hitchcock, and many other directors exploring this theme. noe, however does things strangely. we see alex briefly, in a classic horror film manner, shot from behind. a visual that implies vulnerability, the camera is practically stalking her. the voyerism/objectifying that implicates the viewer occurs after the rape filmicly; the viewer is rather dared to think of her as a sex object, although, technically, she's little else by that time in the film. she's barely been mentioned up until that point, and she isn't, as a character, fleshed out until we are well before the rape. infact, noe seems to make a point of her being a cypher the closer she gets to being raped. perhaps that is one of his points-- sex for men is objectification. none of the men seem capable of anything sexually without the objectification of the other. this is not a simple male/female equation, for noe, i should add. there is a subtext of brutish masculinity running thru the film, the men constantly question each other's sexuality, and variations on "faggot" are constantly hurled. the second scene in the movie takes place in a gay bar called the "rectum," where we see all manner of sex acts taking place, one man even asking to be fisted; the rectum is frequented by the rapist, aka le tenia (the tapeworm) is also a pimp, who beats his transexual prostitute, insists on raping belucci in the ass, and saying she has a "tight faggot ass"; a transvestite the men (alex's ex and current bf, pierre and marcus) meet while looking for the rectum insists he's not a faggot; the two pimps trying to get the men to help them find le tenia, finally convince pierre and marcus after insulting thier masculinity; and marcus (who mirrors le tenia in some ways); tells alex he wants anal sex. in noe's world, it seems, men are easily manipulated, will do anything to hold on to what little masculinity they have left.


i'm still mulling over irreversable. like inside it's one of those films that i love-- ones that require you to chew on for a while, that need a bit of wool gathering in order to pull apart. the more i do, however, the more i really admire/ respect what noe was trying-- and i think largely succeeds in doing. it is of course a film that is hard to digest-- it has the most notorious rape scene in film, and there is no mediation (cuts etc.) between it and the viewer. we are made to suffer thru it with alex, the female lead. but pulling back, the structure shows us something much more profound. if we take it that irreversable (film wise) starts-- in hell, having arrived there thru the "rectum" the club of brutality, a club of death, where everything, metaphorically turns to shit, a specifically male space, an exclusively evil, with a character from another film, one noe calls the most hateful, evil, self loathing, spiteful human being that ever lived, and then "count backwards", we end up, at the chronological start-- eden. with alex untouched, perhaps as a child, playing in the sprinklers, a specifically idyllic, female place, a place of life, and birth, having arrived via the home, a somewhat female space, indicated by the rather ham handed shot of a 2001 poster.

i should rewind. the auteur theory posits that with a film master, the films are solely her/his vision, their obsessions, granted, most films are too big for that to be literally true, but they are the person in charge, and if we are talking about an auteur, not simply a director, then this is certainly true. behind that theory is that for the purposes of story telling, that person, the director is god/dess, ruler and controller of the world/universe or all that he sees, and thru their control, we glean their message, or their world view.

now, keeping in mind, noe's subtitle for irreversable is, "time destroys all things," and if the metaphor is an allegorical look at human progress using the human body, which is more than plausable, thanks to "the rectum," the tunnel and our friend, the tape worm, la tenia, then what noe does in showing everything backward is not the act of vomiting up the bile he shows us, but rather, undigesting it. taking the proverbial bite of the apple and piece by piece restoring it, rendering the apple-- and the body, at least in his universe, whole. more than that, however, it is a rejection of maleness, and male violence. brutality for brutality's sake is found on the male half of the film. the center of the film is the rape, a metaphor of corruption, to be sure, but it is after this, the energy or world spins out of control, if we head cronologically, and the narrative decisively switches from the mostly female centered alex, to the masculine animal pack of the pimps, pierre, marcus. the tapeworm and the roman quorum/bathhouse of the fire extinguisher scene in the rectum. shown filmically, the tunnel is, as i have mentioned, where alex is reduced to object, to the point that she disappears from the film. it is only when we return backward chronologically, that her humanity, her complexity is restored, and she centers the film.

contrast that to the way it would have appeared had the movie been shown chronologically, she would have slowly been stripped of that humanity, reduced to voyeuristic object of desire. alex -- women--represent hope, joy, kindness and love in the film, and when she is 'snuffed' the same happens to the film. it is rather obvious with the rape being center, that this film is concerned with the corruption of women, but aside from the rape, noe shows us the corruption in other ways, the closer we get to that center, the more corrupt the women become too, going from alex's friend who is pregnant and very sweet, on to the women who dance with alex, to the coke sniffing drugged up women, to finally the prostitutes marcus toys with, to the one that tells alex, the tunnel is safer. once in the tunnel, there is a transference (pun intended) the woman le tenia is harassing symbolizes, that filmic shift i talked about earlier-- she is, as we found out earlier (chronologically backwards) that she is not just a prostitute, but a transexual. both male and female, but she falls on corrupt side of the story line, although she is still sympathetic, she too is a victim of male energy/hate, along with the other women on the corrupt side, but eventually, they too will disappear, and all that is left is male rage. here, the corruption is almost a cain and abel parallel, with pierre's jealousy of the "ape" marcus (and of course there is the 2001 reference again too, natch). so it makes sense that he bludgeons the man he thinks harmed alex, much to the pleasure of the other apes/men.

other notes: the boards on imdb are pretty repulsive, with lots of trolls (with names like pederasty) saying really fucked up things, but-- there is a very interesting post of someone who found steven hawking's take on the film, which falls in line with my take on it, using the auteur theory. [/color]

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