Why Rich Haridy adores… IRREVERSIBLE

3 Dec

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE!!!

It’s been a while, I know, but your favourite haven from internet cynicism and snark has returned for summer (and, life permitting, beyond)! I’ve gotten such a wonderful response from the folks who have visited here since we kicked off in April, and your enthusiasm and willingness to celebrate what you love about film and television is the engine that powers me to keep the site alive and, for that, I thank you!

Speaking of the site, I hope you enjoy the new surrounds; I’m trying out a new theme that’s a little more bold, attractive and (hopefully) easier to read. But enough about us — this is all about the adoration, so grab a beverage, pull up your favourite chair, sit back and behold…

This week’s Adorer is Rich Haridy, known to film buffs and Twitterati alike as Rich On Film, which is his terrific website chock-full of film reviews, opinion pieces and ace videos from around the interwebs. Today, Rich will lay down his love for one of the more controversial, hard-hitting motion pictures of the last decade — but helpfully, has written it forwards, rather than backwards…


< BEWARE: SPOILERS WITHIN! >

IRREVERSIBLE is not only my favourite film from the last decade, but it is one of the most amazingly transcendent cinematic experiences I have ever had and I completely adore Gaspar Noe for creating it.

Great cinema for me is cinema that makes me feel something. It’s cinema that disturbs me, excites me, disorientates me. It burrows into the backwoods of my mind and takes up permanent residence. Days, weeks, months, or even sometimes years later, it still sits there and makes itself known anytime someone mentions its title. IRREVERSIBLE changed me on a cellular level. I had never been so physically affected by a film before. The blunt force of the formal elements in this film hit me very hard. This wasn’t a feeling of anger or mere offence, but rather the totality of the experience that this film offered me was unprecedented.

Over the following years I occasionally returned to the film and as the initial power of the experience wore off so grew my fascination with how this film actually worked. IRREVERSIBLE was solely responsible for forming the basis of my honours thesis. Gaspar Noe had really created something amazing. For me, he had thrust cinema into the 21st century. He was appropriating experimental and avant garde techniques into a narrative feature all with the goal of creating a visceral experience in the viewer. Strobing the screen, spinning the camera, droning the soundtrack, pulsing the frame, Noe utilises every trick in the book to get the audience to feel something. More than simply telling a story, he uses sound and image to literally alter his audience’s psychological state.  Hypnotically trance-inducing techniques are thrown to the fore in IRREVERSIBLE. Stylistic devices with no narrative function are prominently displayed in such a brave way.

Now all this in and of itself isn’t what makes IRREVERSIBLE a great film. Sure, it’s provocative stuff, but it’s not merely a superficial formal exercise. Noe uses these formal elements in IRREVERSIBLE with sharp precision for a reason. Much like MEMENTO, the other big reverse chronology film from the last decade, IRREVERSIBLE uses audacious formal devices to service and enhance its narrative and thematic concerns.

Noe’s use of reverse chronology in his film is much more accomplished than it initially appears. The most obvious function of this device is to strip scenarios of any motivational understanding. The violence we are subjected to at the beginning of the film is unexplained, and as brutal as it can be. Nothing could justify this vicious act. Of course, the residual trauma of this event carries into the rape sequence that comes later. We have ample time during this sequence to reconsider our reactions to the earlier violence. At least, we would, if Noe didn’t offer us a reverse twist by revealing that the man killed at the beginning actually wasn’t even the perpetrator of this rape.

This leaves a moral question hanging in the audience’s mind. If our first impression of the violent murder was that it was wrong, and we changed our minds once we found out about the vicious rape and beating this man had given, then we are ultimately even more confused when it is revealed that the wrong man was murdered. This is a simple affectual function that results from the reverse chronology but it greatly contributes to the discomfort many feel in watching the film. IRREVERSIBLE has been described as moral, immoral and amoral by various critics because of this technique.

Another quick detail worth mentioning is Noe’s sickly humorous jokes placed throughout the film that play upon the idea of premonition and determinism. In the second half of the film, as we review events prior to the violence to come, we observe many characters alluding to events they are yet to experience. We get two conversations about violent sex and the desirability of it, one even includes Vincent Cassell prophetically saying to Belucci that he wants to “fuck your ass”. It is presented as playful banter between lovers, but we know what is in Belucci’s future and the lightness of the moment is profoundly corrupted. It’s not only a sick joke on Noe’s part, but also one of the many nods he makes to the philosophical school of hard determinism.

In fact, the whole final act of the film is a remarkable achievement. Noe climaxes his film with one of the most beautiful love scenes I have ever seen. The sequence with Cassell and Belucci wandering around their apartment, playing music, and simply being in love is as powerful as anything Noe has shown us. It is in these moments that the trauma of the earlier sequences pay off. The violence and rape we had previously experienced needed to be as strong as it was in order to reverberate through to these closing sequences. The emotional complexity that we, the audience, feel as we balance the physical trauma from earlier in the film with these later scenes of abject beauty is where IRREVERSIBLE begins to soar as a total experience.

Noe then reveals his ultimate gut-punch, that Belucci was pregnant, and culminates his film with the most gorgeous 5 minutes of cinema I have ever seen.

Time destroys everything indeed. A nihilistic philosophy? Maybe. But never has a philosophical precept been so well conveyed experientially as Noe does with IRREVERSIBLE (the other film in recent memory that works in similar ways is Jim Jarmusch’s BROKEN FLOWERS. Jarmusch uses repetition and cycles in his film to experientially convey the Zen themes underlying his film, but that is a whole other essay). In many ways, I consider Noe to be a spiritual successor to Stanley Kubrick (Noe’s own personal obsession with Kubrick cannot go unnoticed and his most recent film, ENTER THE VOID, has been compared to 2001 frequently). They are both filmmakers who have a fascination with pushing the technological limits of film and they are unafraid to polarise their audience for the sake of a reaction (see FULL METAL JACKET for Kubrick’s most powerful attempt at alienating his audience).

Never has violence been so pungently powerful and beauty been so radiantly glowing. IRREVERSIBLE achieves such a powerful polarity of extremes that it single-handedly set the bar for what can be described as visceral. Noe understands the physical affect of sound and image better than any filmmaker working today. His latest film ENTER THE VOID takes this obsession to a new level again and maintains Noe’s standing as one of the most important filmmakers working today.

Yep, I adore IRREVERSIBLE. It is a summation of everything I want from cinema. It is not an easy film to watch but it is a remarkable achievement that perfectly fuses form and content into a total experience that leaves you changed as a result. If only more films used the tools of cinema to make audiences feel.

P.S: I also adore Gaspar Noe’s wicked handlebar moustache. Keeping the dream alive!

– Richard Haridy

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2 Responses to “Why Rich Haridy adores… IRREVERSIBLE”

  1. Simon Miraudo December 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm #

    Wonderful write-up; IRREVERSIBLE is indeed a brilliant film. And hey, it even got a mention in MY honours thesis too. COINCIDENCE????

  2. Jon June 8, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    In the film, how is it revealed to the audience that the wrong man was killed? I had to go back and watch the nightclub scene again to confirm this.

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