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The Masked Reviewer

Well.  Where to begin?  This film is by director Gaspar Noe.  It has stirred up a great deal of controversy.  Film critics are all over the map on this's received outstanding reviews and horrible reviews.  People think it's exploitation or absolutely not exploitative whatsoever.  People think it's deep or that it says nothing at all.

The Masked Reviewer did not like this film.  Not at all.  The Masked Reviewer typically does not read the critiques of other reviewers, but he could not honestly fathom why anyone in their right mind would like this film and he wanted to know.  He still doesn't get it.  Some have suggested that Irreversible says something about the human condition, that it's a disturbing look at life and art and violence and blah blah blah.  Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) had more to say than this film. 

The film is shot in reverse chronological order, much like Memento (2000) or Betrayal (1983).  Each of the twelve scenes is a single, unedited shot, much like Time Code (2000), Running Time (1997), or Hitchcock's Rope (1948).  Many of the lines are improvised, much like This Is Spinal Tap (1984).  The difference between all of the films mentioned above and Irreversible is that the above films all have something going for them.

Let's start with the bad.  The camera work is handheld, and is intentionally shaky.  Worse, it flips upside down, spins, bobs, and weaves.  Imagine Muhammed Ali, in his prime, fighting Joe Frazier, with a camera in his glove.  Then imagine an earthquake hits.  Just to make it more unwatchable, someone starts flipping the lights on and off repeatedly.  Some people believe that this camera work was intended to make you feel like you were part of a hectic, adrenaline-pumped scene.  But it went way beyond that into just plain annoying.  Many people in the screening the Masked Reviewer attended walked out before any of the controversial stuff happened, probably because of motion sickness. 

Some people will need to know that this is a French film.  It's in French (with English subtitles), starring French actors.  That will be enough for some people to say "non!", especially given the anti-French atmosphere that has been present since...the American Revolutionary War.

Next, the pacing of the film is absolutely dead dull.  Of the twelve scenes, every single one dragged on and on.  Something that would, in a typical film, be one or two lines turned into the same one or two lines repeated over and over and over and over and over again.  To get a feel for what it's like to sit through Irreversible, try translating this review into French, writing subtitles under each line, photocopy the  page three thousand times, crumple the pages up and throw them in a dryer.  Now watch the paper balls bounce around for, oh, six months. 

The opening credits nicely set the mood for the film.  They're hard to make out (partly because they're in French, but many letters are reversed in the words), and they drag on.

In the first fifteen minutes of the film, you can certainly go out to the lobby, have a snack, call a friend, and use the restroom.  When you return, you can see the same thing you saw on screen and ask your movie-going friend "What did I miss?"  and they will say "Nothing, they've done exactly this for the last fifteen minutes."  This happens several times during the film.  You might miss the feeling of boring repetitiveness by not having to sit through it, and maybe this is crucial to the filmmaker's vision,'re better off going for Milk Duds.

One of the first "big controversies" in the film is a very graphic depiction of violence.  It's graphic.  It's brutal.  Some people will be repulsed by it.  Horror movie fans will think it's cool. 

The second "big controversy" is a brutal depiction of a woman being anally raped.  It's one shot that lasts nine minutes and will undoubtedly disturb and revolt many people.  However, it will also undoubtedly make some people hot.  The director wanted to out-do the rape scene in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971).  This one is longer, but quickly becomes gratuitous. 

Are these elements exploitative?  It's a tough question.  What crosses the line?  The rest of the film seems so gimmicky and forced-artsy that it doesn't seem unfair to conclude that the choice to show graphic violence was more about controversy than saying anything.  The characters are all completely two-dimensional.  Woman is raped, man gets revenge..  A nine minute graphic rape scene doesn't necessarily have more impact than a twenty second scene done well.  The film is Death Wish, with a less defined plot, less developed characters (!), and more repetitive dialogue.  What it does have is subtitles, long single-shot scenes, spasmodic camerawork (some would say "artsy"), and a "time destructs everything" tagline, which is enough for many people to attribute to it a sense of high art and deep meaning. 

The Masked Reviewer believes that in cases where a film is both highly praised and deeply loathed, it's probably getting more credit than it's due.  Does it make you think?  Yes.  It'll make you think you should get a refund on your ticket price.  Although, there are some people who like it.  Undoubtedly, some people enjoy drinking their own urine, too.

The end of the film features a spinning camera shot as classical music swells.  The music stops and a loud tone replaces it, as the screen brightens to white and blinks like a strobe light for more than a minute.  That's annoying.  Great.  "The film isn't bad enough, let's give everyone a headache on the way out.  Oui!" 

On the other hand, the point has been made that in showing a film about brutality and revenge in reverse order, you become aware of a lot of things.  Events don't always flow in the way we might think they will.  What one action set off the horrific chain of events in the film (other than buying your ticket to see it)?  It's hard to say.  You do get to see the ugly side of revenge, and violence isn't made to seem cool.  But, the horrible camerawork, repetitiveness, slow pacing, and lack of interesting character (as well as a movie where the climax happens early and then less and less happens as the film goes on) make it hardly worthwhile.

The Masked Reviewer couldn't wait for the movie to begin.  (That is, since it was shot in reverse, the beginning came at the end of the film.)  But, then again, the film never did begin.  This film could've been tightened up into a two minute scene and put in an interesting, provocative, and/or enjoyable movie.  One character says he's tired of another character's "B movie revenge crap."  Ah, if only it ever elevated to that level.  But no.

This must be the French making us pay for American anti-Frenchism.  Make them stop.  Pooey.

Expectation from the Title: The sad story of a Ford pickup truck that was stuck in 1st and couldn't get out of its garage.  Sadly, Irreversible refers to the fact that the 99 minutes of your life you spent watching the film can never be recaptured.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Oh.  My.  Let's see...the French people didn't smoke as many cigarettes as they usually do, and it's good to see they're taking better care of their health.

The Pros: Even the nudity doesn't make this film worth seeing, but at least there is some. 

The Cons: From the opening credit until the loud strobe light finish, this is chock full o' cons.  There are some people who like it, though. 


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