Irreversible

Gaspar Noe's notorious I STAND ALONE (1998) came with a flashing intertitle advising squeamish moviegoers that they had 30 seconds to leave the theater before the film reached its grisly climax. Noe's latest provocation could have used two such warnings: It contains a pair of scenes so brutal — one an excruciating, 10-minute rape — that they've...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Gaspar Noe's notorious I STAND ALONE (1998) came with a flashing intertitle advising squeamish moviegoers that they had 30 seconds to leave the theater before the film reached its grisly climax. Noe's latest provocation could have used two such warnings: It contains a pair of scenes so brutal — one an excruciating, 10-minute rape — that they've reportedly left viewers in a faint. Whether you take the film as a deliberately vile act of filmmaking that unpacks rape-revenge scenarios while making a point about male desire, or simply as a deliberately vile piece of filmmaking, one thing is certain: It's about as close to a physical assault on viewers as movies get. Like MEMENTO (2000), Noe's film unfolds in reverse, with each successive scene describing the antecedent action. The film opens with the unnamed butcher (Philippe Nahon) of I STAND ALONE sitting naked in a squalid room, reflecting on his crime. A commotion is heard coming from the Rectum, the hardcore gay sex club below, where two men are being taken away by police, Marcus (Vincent Cassel) on a stretcher and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) in handcuffs. As the film unspools, we learn exactly what has happened, in reverse and in horrendously graphic detail. Earlier in the evening Marcus and Pierre were both at a party with Marcus's girlfriend, Alex (Monica Bellucci). Disgusted by Marcus's drunken behavior, Alex left early and was brutally raped and beaten in an underpass by a gay pimp known as Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) — "The Tapeworm." Once Marcus and Pierre learned what happened, they feverishly tracked Le Tenia to the Rectum and took their vicious and, in a cruel twist, misdirected revenge. This is the kind of film that virtually defies coherent defense: You can't read it as a critique of heterosexual male desire because the rapist is gay, and in that respect it's as homophobic AS LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977). More so, in fact; the film clearly posits gay sex as the antithesis of all things bright and beautiful, and the habitues of the Rectum as fiends who crave physical abuse and applaud murder. And it's difficult to give it a feminist reading because, unlike the violated heroine of a film like MS. 45 (1981), the highly sexualized Bellucci is rendered completely powerless by the crime. So why should any one see the thing? Because it's brilliantly done — Noe employs light, sound and editing to extraordinary effect — and while art can never excuse atrocity, Noe raises important questions about violence and vengeance and the movies we make about them.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Gaspar Noe's notorious I STAND ALONE (1998) came with a flashing intertitle advising squeamish moviegoers that they had 30 seconds to leave the theater before the film reached its grisly climax. Noe's latest provocation could have used two such warnings: I… (more)

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