Wonder of wonders, the violent French, art-house crypto-porn is now a
full blown genre. We Ruthless folk just can’t get enough of this stuff,
and based on the number of hits we get for reviews of relatively
obscure movies like Romance, Baise Moi and our movie of the year, The Piano Teacher, neither can you. Then again, our our most popular review last month was for Porn n’ Chicken. What the fuck’s with you people? So, anyway, the question about a film
like this is always, how much of the film is art and how much is some
Euro realizing he can make a name for himself by throwing a couple of
schlongs on the screen.

I’ll call this art. Really, the amazing camera work and
cinematography are sufficient reason for me to attach the “art” label,
but I’ll do so even apart from those attributes. I’m not surprised to
have liked this film because a) Unlike most pro reviewers, I recognized
Gaspar Noe’s talent way back when you’d never heard of him b)’s David Edelstein called this the most homophobic film ever
made. I’m not homophobic (well, not very much) and I don’t think the
film is. But when people begin inventing self ritious reasons to
condemn something, I usually like it.


I’ll begin with the opening credits, which run backwards, then off
center to deep resonating sounds. I liked this for the simple reason
that it was artistic. Yes it was effective too, setting a deeply
ominous tone, but I watched and thought, “wow, Noe’s really trying. His
goal is to be an artist, not to get picked up by Sony, make Larry
King’s ten best list and be invited to direct the next Harry Potter
film*.” The ambitious credits are indicitave of the overall ambition of
the film.

But on to the content that has everyone abuzz. The movie moves backwards, kinda like Memento.
Here the backwardness of the story contributes to a general assault on
the viewers, grating on our expectations and sense of order. Also it
allows the violent culmination of the film to actively taint all that
leads up to it, so we really don’t have a moment’s peace. That violence
is, of course, the hot topic. First is a brutal murder. A man is beaten
to death with a fire extinguisher. This scene is one of the most
disturbing I’ve encountered in film. I remember showing the end of Casino,
where Joe Pesci is beaten to a pulp with aluminum baseball bats, then
buried (somewhat) alive, to a class in college. The majority of the
students looked away from the screen at some point. The beating in Irriversibleis
far worse. There are no edits or camera movements to protect us as one
man literally bashes in the head of another over a minute or so.
Incredibly realistic, this scene reminded me of the time I made the
mistake of watching Traces of Death.

Before long, we see the motivation for the beating. The
girlfriend of the men who carried out the beating cuts trough an
underpass at night, comes across a man beating a transvestite hooker
and pauses long enough for the man to trap her. He anally rapes her for
several minutes, saying things like “are you wet or is that blood?”
then beats her into a coma. So, you can see why her friends were so

So what about all this? Is it homophobic? Not really. The
rapist and/or the man thought to be the rapist is basically gay, but on
a power trip. The club where the murder takes place is a gay leather
club called The Rectum. The name of the club is part of a tunnel/ass
motif, and if we want to get even more symbolic, the site where the
story of the film, having passed through outer tubes and tunnels
completes its journey like a piece of digested food. Maybe you could
even say people are ultimately shit. Yeah. So, the gay leather club is
a scene of disturbing depravity, which, I’m sorry, just can’t be too
far off the mark. Also, the evil rapist is gay. What, gays can’t be
evil? Jeffery Dahmer anybody?

So, visual beauty aside, why is this film art and not just
shock? Well, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can shock artfully.
People were shocked by Psycho. In 2003, it generally takes a
little more. The content of this film is shocking in its own right but
Noe doesn’t just say “look, a bashed in head!” The filmmaking conveys
the darkness of the events and of the minds behind them. The blunt
depiction of these acts, along with outstanding acting, allows us to
see how far they really go. We see every decision and action on the
part of the characters, as well as the consequences of those actions as
they unfold.

Both scenes leave everything on the table, from our voyeurism to Noe’s
decision to show so much. Most reviewers go on and on about the horrors
of the rape scene, but I think that is mostly posturing. The scene is
brutal, but it is after all, a scene in a movie. The woman squirms and
cries, the man rapes. Unpleasant, yes, but from some of the hyperbole
floating about, you’d think that Noe had filmed real-life puppy
torture. Also there is an erotic element there, as there is to rape
generally. Yes, yes, yes, rape is horrible in real life, but at the
same time, the words ‘rape’ and ‘fantasy’ are no strangers to one
another for men or women. As Andrew O’hair points out in his Salon
review, simply contextulize the identical rape scene as a consentual
game between lovers and there wouldn’t be a dry pair of underwear in
the house. And even as it stands, an erotic element is there.

Anyway, I liked this one. Maybe these films everyone
likes to call “nihilistic” are just the new horror films. Who’s
actually afraid of the Warewolf these days? Maybe the occasional
Pentecostal. But the dark side of humanity – the eroticism of rape and
our capacity for animal violence can be pretty chilling stuff, not to
mention the films slogan, that “time destroys all things” and is
certainly worth artistic exploration.

*I know this sounds like a dig at Y Tu Mama Tambien,
but it isn’t. Maybe it’s a little bit of a dig at that film’s director,
who really will be doing the next Potter movie, but if they offered me
$10 million, I’d become a member of Spice Girls II, so who am I to play
the snob?

Regular Ratings:

  • Overall: 8
  • Acting, direction and so forth: 8

    Special Ruthless Ratings:

    • Number of times your mind wandered during the long rape scene: 2
    • Number of warning signs about the film’s content posted in front of the theater: 4
    • Number of times you wished you had enough money to buy The Family Channel and run this film 24 hours a day: a baker’s dozen
About Plexico Gingrich

Plexico likes to gamble. He writes for a boxing site which you can visit: here
Follow him on twitter: @ruthlessreviews