Irréversible (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs down. We reluctantly awarded  C and C- scores, necessary because of the way we've defined our rating system, but we both hated the film and wish we had never seen it, even though we are big Monica Bellucci fans.

Scoop's comments in white:

Irréversible caused quite a stir at Cannes this year, prompting people to walk out of the screening in such copious droves that it looked like they were being herded out by Rowdy Yates and Gil Faver. Those people weren't leaving because of ennui, either. They were shocked, and one poor woman was even treated for nausea. The central causes of the outrage: (1) a brutal nine minute anal rape scene in real time, including a violent beating  (2) a gay S&M club where guys are feeling, licking, and fisting each other openly, and the camera is acting as the eyes of the frenetic boyfriend, who is seeking the rapist (3) a realistic scene of one man beating another man's skull in with a fire extinguisher (4) filming technique which involves spinning the camera 360 degrees and other such vomit-inducing techniques.

Is this art? Interesting question, which forces us to dig back deep into our consciousness and try to recall what the hell art is supposed to be.

As Tolstoy pointed out, art is a form of human communication. It is the communication of feelings and sensations through creative work.

Not all communication is art. Factual transmission, for example, is not art. "I had breakfast about 7:30" is not art. But factual transmission can become raised to the level of art if it is expanded to communicate something other than mere facts. The study of history, for example, is generally not artistic, but factual. Yet it certainly can be made into art, as Ken Burns demonstrated with his Civil War films. To cite another example, photographs may or may not be art, depending on whether they simply communicate facts, or whether they also communicate attitudes toward the subject.

Does that mean that everyone who communicates feelings in some creative way is making art? No, we can eliminate those efforts whose intention is not actually to communicate at all, but merely to profit. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days", for example, is not art. It is commerce. But even some commerce can become art. Some of the works of Charles Dickens were originally commercial efforts which ended up communicating at some deeper level than Dickens ever dared to dream. He may have talked to his own generation in an entertaining commercial way, but he communicated to future generations at a much deeper level. Sometimes commerce becomes art by taking on a life beyond its creator's vision. What was the attitude of 19th century England toward poverty? Toward Christmas? To the extent that you can understand their feelings, whether accurately or not, it is Dickens who has communicated those feelings to you.

In the arena of commerce, there are much better examples than the works of Dickens, because his works were his own unique vision and his own form of communication with his audience, so a deeper level of communication always existed side-by-side with his need to pay the bills. More salient to the point, there are even examples of art-by-committee. The movie Casablanca is a great example. It was not created by a man with a vision. It was a joint project assembled by a producer whose intent was to make a buck. It was a stage play written and re-written by several different teams of people who tried to make it more commercial, or a better vehicle for Bogart. It just turned out so good and so universal that it achieved something profound, and has communicated to several succeeding generations. What do we know of America's attitude toward World War Two? Yes, I know what my dad has told me, and I know what I have read in history books, but what I really "feel" about that question is summarized in the attitude of Rick Blaine, reluctant warrior and hard-nosed cynic with a soft idealist's heart beating in his core. Casablanca may not have a true artist as its mastermind, but it somehow became a work of art nonetheless.

All that verbiage leaves us with no reason to eliminate Irreversible from the artistic catalog. It is art. It is a creative effort to communicate deep emotions and attitudes without regard to the profitability of doing so. The only strong counter-argument that I can offer is that the director is not really communicating to the audience, but rather manipulating them. Yes, that may be so, but I can't see where that eliminates it from consideration. Yes, he is using some manipulative techniques to produce a desired response from the audience, just as the producers of  "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" did with their film, but he has done so with the intention of communicating more profoundly his feelings and attitudes towards the subject matter, unlike the makers of "How to ... ", who manipulate our emotional reactions merely to sell the product.

Yes, Gaspar Noe is a true artist. I don't see any way to dispute that.

Is he a GOOD artist? Now that, as we say in Texas, is a whole different kettle of crawdads. After all, the sincere poetry of a teenage girl is art, but it isn't good art. It's probably trite, unoriginal, and too self-absorbed to be universal.

Irreversible may or may not be good art. This movie is the kind which will provoke debate. If you showed it to 100 people chosen at random, 97 would despise it for the gratuitous camera movement, the backwards narrative, and/or the violence. But very few people would be indifferent to it. All 97 of those people would remember it for some time, if not forever. Of the remaining three, one would argue that it was a work of unparalleled vision, and an artistic achievement which communicates to people on a deeper level than almost any other film in memory. Another one would argue that it was a pretentious work of dim-witted arrogance, what the L.A. Times called "Nietzsche-for-knuckleheads". The third person would be me. I would say that the film packs a pretty strong emotional wallop, but I didn't like it, will never watch it again, and I honestly don't think people will remember it ten years from now. Good art has staying power, and it is my guess that this film does not.

The basic plot: Monica Bellucci has a spat with her boyfriend (real-life husband Vincent Cassel) at a party, so she leaves in a huff. Here's a good tip for you female youngsters - when in a snit, keep sufficient wits about you to avoid desolate tunnels. In the tunnel, a mad rapist not only violates her, but hits her again and again, turning her into a punching bag in a graphic ultra-violent rage. Nobody in the film seems to care for anyone else. One bystander sees the rape taking place, but walks away and does nothing. The boyfriend hears that there has been a rape, but is unconcerned until he realizes that it affects him personally, at which time he is outraged and decides to take justice into his own hands, as they say.


  • Vincent Cassel shows his penis
  • Jo Prestia shows his erect penis briefly
  • Monica Bellucci shows all
  • Various male gay sex acts are seen, in passing and sometimes unfocused, at the Rectum Club.

The camerawork is ... well, the word I have to use is nauseating, but I don't mean to use that word in the figurative sense of "offensive and poorly executed", but in the completely literal sense of "tending to make one feel nauseated". If you get sick on carnival rides or on boats, this is not the film for you.

JoBlo summed it up this way in his review:

the camera work in this film is beyond "hand-held". The first twenty minutes or so features the camera constantly, and I mean, constantly...moving, bobbing, weaving, turning round and round and round...twisting, focusing, unfocusing, featuring nothing, featuring everything...basically everything and the kitchen sink, and yet it really doesn't give you a focused sense of anything on-screen.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • see main commentary

If the graphic violence and crazy camerawork aren't far enough off the beaten path for you, you'll be pleased to know that the film is also told backwards, Memento style, in 12 scenes shown in reverse chronological order.

The ironic component of the title is that the film is named "irreversible", even though events are reversed. The point seems to be that all of our actions lead to other events, and all of the things we do are truly "irreversible". Movies are reversible. Life isn't.  


After 30 minutes of twirling cameras, images that, thankfully, were mostly undecipherable, and a constant barrage of gutter talk, I watched the 7 minute anal rape scene and the long naked Bellucci sex scene, and got out of the theater, just like the audiences at Cannes.

While Scoopy found things to admire about it, I did not. In his summary, Scoopy said. "It uses extreme levels of realistic graphic violence and unusual camera techniques to induce a reaction from the audience. It does produce a reaction in everyone. 99.9% of you will hate it, but that other guy will think it is truly an important work of cinema."

He was right. My reaction was, "why am I watching this piece of crap?"

After reading many of the positive reviews, I still can't come up with an answer to that question. I will leave this film to those that appreciate it.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4.

  • Director Gasper Noe was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes: IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.2/10
  • with their dollars: it grossed about a million dollars in Italy, less than a million in the USA, and $3-4 million in France.

In The UK ...

  • General UK consensus: no consensus, but an average of two stars, ranging from zero to three or better. Mail 0/10, Telegraph 3/10, Independent 7/10, Guardian 2/10, Times 8/10, Mirror 8/10, Express 8/10, BBC 4/5

Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in style: Manohla Dargis, L.A. Times. "Noé, with his Nietzsche-for-knuckleheads nihilism and extreme-cinema ambitions, clearly fancies himself a visionary, but mounting a camera on a roller coaster or putting a story into rewind doesn't make a film formally adventurous or interesting. Conceiving of a gay club as an antechamber to the inferno and sexualizing a woman's rape, however, do make it titillating."

Order of merit in accuracy: David Edelstein, Slate. The 12 scenes of Irreversible—each shot in a single, semi-improvised take—constitute something of a tour de force. But so would being dragged through the streets by a wire noose. There is something to be said for violence that isn't stylized and made to seem "fun"—that actually makes you feel like Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971) with your eyes pried open and no cathartic release. It could be argued that this is the only moral way to present violence, so that it hurts. But there is nothing moral about Irreversible—only sneeringly superior and nihilistic, like Johnny Rotten at his most fatuous.

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, the film is a C. It uses extreme levels of realistic graphic violence and unusual camera techniques to induce a reaction from the audience. It does produce a reaction in everyone. 99.9% of you will hate it, but that other guy will think it is truly an important work of cinema. Tuna says, "C-. Unless you very narrowly define the genre, 99 out of 100 people will regret watching it.

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