Here’s a good question: how do you look at this film? It has such horrendous things in it, that it still shook me in my second viewing. We see a head mercilessly beaten to a literal (literal) pulp right in front of our eyes. We witness a grueling rape in real time, in an uninterrupted nine minute shot, mostly static (all the more horrendous because it may be the only time the camera is as static for most of the film) followed by another head being bashed in, this time with fists and pavements. We see nasty glimpses of fetishist and torrid homosexual sex, including a man who begs to be fisted, claiming it is one of our character’s safer options. Oh, did I tell you, this all takes place in the first third of the film?

“Irreversible” traces a night out with two tender lovers. It is an evening that begins with kidding and love making, and even potential for a blossoming future. It is an evening which ends in the events of the above mentioned paragraph. And it is a tale told in reverse. So, I just told you the ending. Or the beginning. Well, both I guess. I’m sorry.

Director Gasper Noe may indeed be a sicky but he’s a skilled one with some real things on his mind. Technically, the film is very powerful. From its gripping opening (which is actually the end credits) Noe’s use of color and music draw the viewer in. It grips us even as it takes a good eight minutes for something to happen. We know something WILL happen. It is something to marvel at. After the end credits, the viewer witnesses a conversation I still can not place the importance of except just to buffer and prepare its audience. Then for about four minutes we hardly see anything…maybe an occasional penis or sex act…but mostly just what appears to be a swirling camera capturing darkness and the occasional flash of light. Yet we watch (I wondered later if a submission copy of this film entered into a film festival without any credentials would survive an acceptance screening at festivals), and when we see something…well, we see it all too well.

Noe uses Beethoven and we listen to great orchestration, and we think of “A Clockwork Orange” (and based on the Kubrick poster adorning the walls at the end of the picture, this is not coincidence). He tells his story in what appears to be one uninterrupted long traveling whiz of a shot—which would be amazing any way you cut it, but considering the story is being told chronologically backwards, it is even more impressive. Now, of course it isn’t one continuous shot. The magic of editing!

The themes? Well, it’s a revenge movie, right? Except the revenge happens first, then the event that spurned the revenge, and we are left at the beginning with a happy couple untouched. Now, sometimes Noe nails too directly at his material with his talk of foreshadowing and the book Bellucci is reading during the final shot. But mostly, he let’s the film simply play out the way he has designed it. And we are left to analyze violence, and society, and the whole “eye for an eye” thing. Plus, we learn that the guilty party is not always punished.

It is hard and cruel, but it is best this way. The violence isn’t for pleasure. Noe makes it impossible to enjoy any of the darkness that is happening–which is quite a feat for a film that is so stylistic because it allows you to enjoy the style. It allows you to enjoy the characters. It allows you to see decisions about to be made that are already too late to undo, because they’ve already been made five minutes prior.

So, it’s hard to recommend, but I believe it is an important work in both theme and style. So see it. You already have. You can’t fight time.

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