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Movie Poster for Irréversible

Irréversible (2002, France) is a film written, directed, edited, and photographed by Gaspar Noé. It is considered to be one of the most disturbing and controversial films of 2002, due to its explicit on-camera depiction of rape and murder.

The film has also been compared to Memento and Peppermint Candy, since both films use a reverse chronology; they are told backwards.


Story overview

The story is of two men (Marcus and Pierre) who seek revenge following the rape of Marcus' girlfriend, who is also the ex-girlfriend of Pierre. The film is set in Paris over the course of one day. The story is told in reverse chronology in thirteen sections each around five minutes in length. The beginning of the film (i.e. the end of the timeline in the film) contains many distorted images and rapidly, freely moving and rotating cameras creating a sense of chaos. Over the course of the film (i.e. moving backwards in the timeline of the film) the imagery becomes steadily calmer, intending to reinforce the tagline of the film, that over time things become more chaotic.


Two men, Marcus (played by Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (played by Albert Dupontel), are led out of a gay sex club, "Rectum", by police. Earlier that evening, they arrived at the club in a frantic search for a pimp nicknamed Le Tenia (literally: the tapeworm). Marcus picked a fight with a man, believing him to be Le Tenia. When Marcus had his arm broken in the fight, his friend Pierre rescued him by bludgeoning his attacker to death using a fire extinguisher. This killing is depicted graphically on camera, and is one of two controversial sequences in the film.

In a succession of scenes, we learn that Marcus and Pierre went in search of Le Tenia after questioning several prostitutes. They were aided in their search by two men who promised to exchange information about Le Tenia for money, so that the two could exact revenge. It is further disclosed that Le Tenia raped and beat up Marcus's girlfriend Alex (played by Monica Bellucci), who is also the ex-girlfriend of Pierre. The rape takes place when Alex encounters Le Tenia beating a prostitute in a pedestrian underpass. The rape itself, the film's other controversial scene, is shown in a single unbroken take lasting nine minutes. After the rape scene, it also becomes clear that Pierre and Marcus attacked the wrong man: Le Tenia was standing right next to the man who was killed.

The film then delves into the actions that preceded the event. We see Alex, Marcus and Pierre at a party. Alex and Marcus are apparently divided over Marcus's uninhibited use of cocaine and alcohol. Earlier scenes reveal the real divisions between Marcus and Pierre: Alex left Pierre, a staid and sexually reserved philosophy professor, for the more footloose and sexually uninhibited Marcus. The last scene of the film shows Marcus and Alex rising from bed to prepare for the party, with Alex discovering she is pregnant whilst Marcus is out buying wine.

The film ends with a shot of Alex reading in a park surrounded by children (accompanied by Beethoven's 7th Symphony), giving way to a strobe effect and a roaring sound that is reminiscent of the film running out of the projector gate. A final title card reads: LE TEMPS DETRUIT TOUT (Time Destroys Everything).

Critical reaction

Much controversy has circulated over the film's intentions and methods. While few critics believe the film is a sanction of either rape or revenge, they did openly question whether or not it was exploiting the subject(s) by being so graphic and frank. Film critic Roger Ebert has argued that the film's structure makes it inherently moral — that by presenting vengeance before the acts that inspire it, we are forced to process the vengeance first, and therefore think more deeply about its implications.

Others have pointed out how the film's reverse chronology is used to several other ends aside from examining the moral implications of revenge. For instance, by dispelling any tension generated from the more commonly exploited plot device of whether or not the heroes will be successful in their quest for revenge.

The rape scene has been widely criticised for its extreme and prolonged mixture of sex and violence. It is worthy of comment, though, that Noé deliberately chose to keep the camera static throughout the scene, to avoid the charge of having "eroticised" the attack. More cynical observers have argued that such criticism was just what the filmmakers wanted; providing valuable free publicity for the film.

Public reception

Audience reaction, to both the very lengthy violent sexual attack and a disquietingly brutal murder, has ranged from shocked outrage, abhorrence, to leaving the theater in disgust. Many viewers turn away at times during the film. Yet, fans of the movie state the violence as pictured is essential to the story and give the film credibility. Newsweek magazine stated that this was the "most walked-out-of movie of the year."

Technical details

As with many of Noé's other films, Irreversible was shot using a widescreen 16mm process. Many of the scenes were shot with multiple takes that were then invisibly edited together using digital processing. Also of note is that the scene where Pierre bludgeons a man to death was accomplished entirely using computer-generated imagery. Initial footage using a conventional latex dummy proved unconvincing, so computer graphics were brought in to augment the results.

The film also uses extremely low-frequency sound during the opening twenty to thirty minutes to create a state of disorientation and unease in the audience.


Irréversible won the "Bronze Horse" award at the Stockholm Film Festival and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.


The film stars:

External links

fr:Irréversible pt:Irréversible sl:Nepovratno sv:Irréversible


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