It's hard to imagine a more unpleasant film than Irréversible, a tale of sexual and physical violence that pulls out all the stops in attempting to shock its audience. The new film by French filmmaker Gaspar Noé - whose last feature, I Stand Alone, boasted a 30-second warning countdown before its graphic finale - is determined to rub our noses in the horrid realities of life, kicking things off with a nauseating murder and culminating in a revolting nine-minute rape sequence that garnered intense controversy at the film's 2002 Cannes Film Festival debut. Noé wants us to sit transfixed on the horrific because he's convinced that, by making us do so, he is exposing our naïve bourgeois minds to the grim, unforgiving "real" world. We are the students, he the teacher, and one can imagine Noé, as well as the film's admirers, arguing that those who don't like (or get) the film are simply sheltered ignoramuses afraid to admit that life isn't as warm and cozy as we think it is.
The supposed wisdom imparted by Irréversible is, unfortunately, wholly unoriginal in theory and decidedly odious in practice. To Noé, man is, regardless of his civilized facade, a vicious animal driven by primitive instincts. Homosexuality and femininity are the enemies of masculinity, and should be treated with suspicion and disgust. The modern world, and Paris in particular, is a cesspool of vice and depravity. And the only way to fully convey these themes is to depict them unflinchingly, without restraint or decency. The film, like far too many recent French imports (Baise-moi, Romance), mistakenly embraces blunt shock tactics as the surest means of capturing artless reality.
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