Horror Movies

IRREVERSIBLE. Truly shocking horror of life itself

Four years after the nihilistic and vile I Stand Alone, Gaspar Noé directed a film no less vile but certainly better – Irreversible.


19 March 2024

IRREVERSIBLE. Truly shocking horror of life

This time, we were spared the dubious pleasure of listening to pretentious gibberish for which the image serves only as a backdrop. And along with the image – worth mentioning – any trace of artistry as well. In Irreversible, the French director tackled the issue of time and its influence on our lives. We may not agree with everything, and the director does not provide us with clear answers, but the way he presents this theme deserves attention.

The film tells the story of revenge and crime. The crime is the rape of a woman, and the revenge is the husband’s desire to seek justice. There would be nothing extraordinary about this if it weren’t for the fact that the chronology of events is reversed, and in Irreversible, we see things from the other side, namely from the final, desperate chord of this tragic story. I don’t think I’m sinning too much if I reveal the beginning of the film, which is the actual ending of the shocking tale.

Irreversible Monica Bellucci

In a delirious camera dance, we’ll observe Marcus (Vincent Cassel) with a broken arm and his friend, Pierre (Albert Dupontel), being escorted by the police from a gay club. Shortly afterward, we will witness, in my humble opinion, the best scene in this work; a scene in which Marcus traverses the labyrinth of the sodomite hive in search of the rapist. The camera doesn’t show us much here, but its suggestive nature enhances the dark and hedonistic atmosphere of the place. Sound is as important as the indistinct silhouettes of deviants passed by the main character. However, the act of revenge turns out to be just an ironic grimace of unjust fate. We’ll be told about this by the later, controversial scene of the rape of Marcus’s wife, Alex (Monica Bellucci), which is controversial due to its naturalism and length. In this retrospective journey, we’ll come all the way back to the idyllic images of life before the rape. And as we look at them, it may seem to us that everything is already marked by what will happen later, and that every word carries the weight of a symbol.


The discussion about time in Gaspar Noé’s work takes place on several levels. On one level, it has the value of a truism, which corresponds to the title of the work. Time cannot be reversed. The line between hell and heaven is extremely thin, and at any moment, a person’s fate and that of their loved ones can be decided. This was the case with Alex and Marcus. Can we do anything about it? No, time cannot be turned back, and what’s more, even an instinctive act of revenge may prove futile, disproportionate to the costs incurred. It’s not easy to shake off this impression after watching Irreversible. But there is another idea behind this film, and it is expressed right at the beginning in a conversation between two episodic characters.

Irreversible Monica Bellucci Vincent Cassel Albert Dupontel

“Time destroys everything,” says one of them. At first glance, it sounds like a truism, but after watching the film, this statement may raise justified skepticism. Gaspar Noé has already told us about the nature of man in I Stand Alone. The man presented in that film is a slave to instincts and environment. In Irreversible, we find another master. It is time itself. However, this is an illusion easily manipulated from the perspective of someone who knows the past. At such a moment, everything seems to fit together, and every small detail leads to that one “goal.” In this film, the “goal” is rape. One might think that indeed everything had to lead to this event, and Alex was just a helpless toy of fate. In reality, she made decisions until the very end. Just a few minutes before the crime, she had the choice to wait for a taxi on a busy street or go through a deserted tunnel. She chose the latter. Fatalism or inevitable necessity is an illusion of perspective. When we look back, the past seems to us as one unquestionable chain of cause and effect.

Irreversible Monica Bellucci

The consequence of such a vision, in which time acts as a destructive force, is nihilism. Everyone is placed outside ethical frameworks, including the rapist and the eyewitness to the crime who did not intervene, because, as the director suggests, everything is just a play of fate and time. It’s hard to take this just as a side effect because there are threads in Irreversible suggesting such radical fatalism. On the other hand, the statement that “time destroys everything” begs for the criticism of lacking logic in the context of the events shown. Time constantly destroys the present and leaves people with memories. This is a fact, and it applies to everyone. But within this framework, we do have the ability to make choices. The narrative of “destruction by time” would be just as appropriate if we replaced the rape with Marcus and Alex’s divorce. The crime here only has a shocking effect; it’s a turning point that makes it easier to distinguish between the “time of idyll” and the “time of destruction.” The catch is that this destruction (the rape) is the consequence of human action, not time. Time is merely a plane on which we act.

irreversible tunnel scene monica belucci knife

In Gaspar Noé’s work, there is also a place for chaos – where man is significantly more helpless and susceptible to the influence of instincts and emotions – and a place for relative order, which can be identified with the order of everyday life. The filming technique has been adapted to both stages of life. I’ve already mentioned the delirious camera dance from the beginning of Irreversible; later, this motif is consistently exploited, but over time, it loses its impact. It’s worth noting that the rape scene itself is static, suggesting that even the director is aware of the centrality of this event (this one act determines the fate of the characters, not the passing of time). And behind this event lies – in ethical terms – the crime of the degenerate, and in terms of cause and effect mechanics, the decision of Alex and the thug themselves. Time has nothing to do with it.

Irreversible Monica Bellucci

It’s impossible to remain indifferent to Irreversible. Undoubtedly, it is controversial, morally ambiguous, unjust in the logic of cause and effect presented, but at the same time, it engages the viewer with the dynamics of the presented sequences, the terrifying chaos, forces reflection, and leaves no one indifferent. Add to that good acting, and you get a film worth watching, albeit with a warning for those with weaker nerves. The rape scene is not pornographic. It is shocking due to its naturalism.

Words by Adam Namieta



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