Just watched the movie Irreversible. Now, I kind knew going in what the movie was about. When it came to American theaters in 2003, it was pretty controversial for two especially brutal scenes, one of a murder and one of a sexual and physical assault. It was also told in a “reverse” manner, somewhat like the movie Momento.
What I’m writing now is just my first impressions after having just watched the movie, without the aid of any recently read reviews or commentaries of the movie. I’m also probably not going to be able to make any arguments that will stand up to scrutiny, but it is just what is in my head about the movie.
From the start, I was struck by the all the homophobic language. As cops lead a man on a gurney and then a handcuffed man out of a bar called Rectum, homophobic slurs and commentary are hurled at the two men. In the next scene, which happened before the first, the audience first sees all kinds of sexual activity going on in a dimly lit “backroom” area, both solo and man on man, where most of the men are in leather. Now, I’ve never been to any sex clubs, let alone a sex club exclusively for gay men, but I am not sure I believe that places like this even exist. I have been to gay bars, even gay leather bars where I was just about the only woman there, and I’ve never seen anything like these places featured in movies and television shows where gay men go to have all kinds of sex. So, anyway, there are several minutes of “lurid” gay sex. Then the man on the gurney shows up and starts asking everyone if they know a man called Tiena. The guy who was arrested in the previous scene is trying to get the guy from the gurney to leave, to stop whatever he’s doing. And if you didn’t know from a movie synopsis before you started watching the movie, you’ll find out in a scene or two that these guys are looking for the guy who raped someone they know (gurney guy’s girlfriend). Let me repeat that: They’re looking for a guy who raped a girl in a gay club/bar/sex club. In the process, gurney guy throws out “faggot,” “cocksucker”, etc, slaps around a guy, and then he tries to beat up the guy he thinks raped his girl. When that guy overpowers him, the arrested guy gets in the fray, first to defend gurney guy, then just letting out all the anger he must feel as the sensitive, thinking-too-much guy he’s shown to be later in the movie. So in the second reverse chronological scene, we’re shown the “deviant” sex backroom and then the straight guys beat up one guy and kill another guy, presumably both gay men, in an all gay club. Now, despite how bad I feel rape is, and how willing I am to punish a rapist as severely as possible, as an LGBT person, I was sickened to think that a place where a gay man might go to feel safe and express his sexuality around other like-minded men would be a turned into a place of violence against them by two straight men.
Then, as the movie proceeded, there are several more scenes were the victim, the woman they are supposed to be getting revenge for, Alex, is mentioned, but not seen. For awhile, it was starting to seem like this movie was more about their sense of vengeance than about the victim. Probably the first third of the movie is taken up with Gurney Guy seeking first a witness to the crime, then the club where the witness has told him the perpetrator is hanging out. During this, Gurney Guy assaults a prostitute and threatens to cut her and uses derogatory language to and about an Asian taxi driver, then assaulting him and stealing his cab. What a good boyfriend. Arrested Guy pleads with him to stop, to go see Alex at the hospital, all to no avail. When watching those scenes, I thought that it might be nice for them to go see the woman, but, during that first watching, one doesn’t know how much time has passed. I figured they already knew she was stable. No, you later find out that this is happening just after the police left the scene of the crime. They have not been to the hospital at all before running off to get revenge. Also, isn’t it the victim who is entitled to her revenge? If she died, then maybe it should all fall on their shoulders. But she was the victim of the crime. If anyone is going to get blood for blood, shouldn’t it be her? It just feels like this is taking away all her agency.
The first time we see Alex is when she is being put into the ambulance. She is all blood and dark hair. Just before this, a bystander, when asked what the police are doing there, replies that some whore got raped. When Gurney Guy sees her and starts wailing over her, he calls her his girl. So far Alex is – a rape victim, a whore, and Gurney Guy’s girl. It is her rape that has supposedly driven the story so far, but she isn’t even really a person at this point.
Then the next scene is the scene in which she is raped. She is wearing a very slinky dress and using the underground tunnel to get to the other side of the busy, multi-lane street, to the side where all the taxis are. (And, of course, she is told in an earlier chronologically, seen later scene not to go alone because it is too dangerous.) There is a lengthy brutal rape scene. Very length, very brutal. After the man is done raping her, he then kicks and punches her in the face, saying that he wants to ruin her beautiful face. There is also quite a bit of class issues in it, as he calls her a rich bitch several times, seems to resent her class, or perceived class. We also find out that the man who raped her is also implied to be the pimp of the transgendered prostitute Gurney Guy roughed up earlier in the movie. When raping Alex, he says several times that he does not usually like “cunts.” Does it disturb anyone that the straight guys are the (anti-) heroes for an agent-less woman raped by a gay man?
It is at this point in the movie that I had this thought: If you lived in a country where everyone was white, how would you know who to be scared of when walking alone at night? That’s not exactly what I mean. In American movies or television, there are certain stereotypes of people we should be afraid of. This is a reflection of who we think we should be afraid of in real everyday. These people are almost always male, marked by their clothing as poor or working class (like they aren’t wearing suits), more often than not black or Hispanic, blah blah blah. I’ve read several articles written by middle and upper class people of color who were suspected of shoplifting or being up to no good just because of the color of their skin. But I wonder who white people are supposed to be afraid of when there are no people of color around? I grant this isn’t the actual reality of any European country today and that immigrants in France are face discrimination, but it still made me wonder. It also just reinforced how stupid those stereotypes are, that my parents lost more to the banksters out of their 401Ks than they would lose to a mugger on any given day, and that most rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows personally, not strangers like in this movie.
The rest of the movie is why she left the party before either of the men and flushing out the relationships between the three. It ends in a bright park, with children playing, on a kinda cheery note, like the movie puts back together everything that was broken by the end. I guess that’s a more interesting way of ending the film. It also lets people who’ve seen something pretty disturbing leave the theater feeling good instead of like they want to shoot themselves, which happens way more often in movies like this. Also, it goes from dark and “depraved” and violent to bright and happy and loving.
But I have to say I’m still deeply troubled…….