Reversibility and ‘Irreversible’s’ Hidden Qualities
Gaspar Noé releases his Straight Cut of 2002’s Irreversible theatrically on February 10th, 2023.
You don’t have to have seen any of Gaspar Noé’s films to recognize him as one of the most transgressive voices in modern film working today. Irreversible, his second feature, opened to some controversy at Cannes when approximately 250 audience members walked out as it played. Critics could parse that the film wasn’t made solely for exploitation’s sake, and that there was indeed an artistry on display behind the then-reductive painting of it as a rape-revenge plot played backwards in the edit. But in a recent interview Noé highlights how a previously unseen thread reveals itself in the most recent remix of the movie: the Straight Cut. But something else comes to the forefront, it’s male characters’ fears of the spectrum of sexuality outside of which they feel firmly planted.
Irreversible features three stars in main roles: Monica Bellucci (Alex), Vincent Cassel (Marcus), and Albert Dupontel (Pierre), whom we follow for the majority of the film in a mixture of combinations throughout. In the 2002 original cut we start at the end of the thread of revenge with Marcus and Pierre, having committed an abhorrent act of violence against a patron of a gay club in the city named The Rectum, a fittingly perverse and provoking name that seems to aggravate Marcus to no end when he has to find its location, the promise of himself serving retribution just inside. Marcus’s rage is immediately evident in the original cut, and most would feel rightly so (until they see what transpired before that is). But in Noé’s Straight Cut the emphasis on Marcus falls heavily on his shortsightedness and reactionary animosity. By seeing things in order of events we as an audience are able to spot early moments of distress, which Marcus immediately fumbles in his throes of primal urges, intensified by his questionable use of drugs.
Simply arranging the film’s scenes in order may appear to offer not much of a significant change in paper. However viewing the film in the order of events reversed as opposed to chronologically outlines how the same information relayed in different orders can dramatically change one’s opinion of the outcome and the individual’s choices leading up to it. What the Straight Cut manages to do by reversing Irreversible takes whatever sympathy we assign away from its male characters after Alex’s horrific attack and replaces it with feelings of immense regret and sorrow. This is most noticeable in Pierre, Alex’s ex and Marcus’s accomplice in the second half of the film.
Where we might have been inclined to side with Marcus’s assessment of Pierre’s milquetoast qualities and his unhealthy obsession with Alex post-breakup, this time around Pierre has been the consistent voice of reason. That is, until Marcus hits a breaking point that ropes Pierre into something that cannot be undone. It points out another connection to the film’s namesake; not only is the excruciating, unflinching sexual assault irreversible but perhaps more so is Marcus’s conviction to assuming the power to wield justice against Alex’s perpetrator. What justice Marcus and Pierre find within The Rectum is next to nil, however the violation they enact on the club’s interior is echoed more here in the most literal part of the film. The sexual assault on Alex is an atrocity not just against the individuality she represents but as part of a handful of communities, one of which develops unspoken and remains so through the end of film. Arguably more atrocious is the series of acts committed by Marcus and by association Pierre, acts perpetrated against numerous communities that destroy more than they do unified under the premise of the simplistic view of “balancing the scales.”
When those floodgates open, Marcus spews hatred from every hidden part of himself towards every marginalized group he encounters, both verbally and physically. Pierre is fully compliant with this even in the face of his verbal protests against Marcus’s conduct. His unwillingness to separate from Marcus in this string of actions speaks to that testosterone-driven allegiance that demands male fragility act out in response to any perceived threat to it. The emergent qualities of Irreversible: Straight Cut that unfold as drama takes the label of rape-revenge the original cut was previously assigned and interrogates it in as vigorous a manner Marcus’s violence does for those who are in his way. It shines a light on the scariest qualities of what deep fears and judgements masculinity houses.
It’s not necessary to be familiar with the film as it was presented in 2002 before seeing the new cut, but a familiarity with it does enhance the experience. Alex’s fixation on her dream in the earlier scenes and her reading on premonitions within structures of time are also more noticeable this time around. If you look at Irreversible in a certain way, there is a faint suggestion of science fiction lying underneath if you choose to subscribe to it. Science fiction as a sociological lens does perpetually point to the questions of human nature and the ethical conundrums that lie within either attainable or far-fetched technological developments to solve a certain problem in society.
Irreversible doesn’t take this idea very far, but the foundations of the genre’s elements are there. Alex’s introduction to this idea in the presence of Pierre and Marcus falls on relatively deaf ears, the two men instead chiding Alex into divulging who is better at sex with her and what fulfills her in the bedroom, steamrolling the conversation into something infinitely more private. This continues on the metro as they commute to a party together, never once considering Alex’s uncomfortability with the subject as stated multiple times. If you focus on her while the two men banter amongst each other, she can be seen dissociating from her immediate surroundings. It’s an early sign that heralds the coming sequence of horror for all three of them, and provides a skewed sense of what Marcus and Pierre each think of how to support Alex in the wake of the crime committed against her. Irreversible: Straight Cut is an essential refocus of what surprised us in 2002, and will undoubtedly stir up different conversations surrounding how we support and listen to each other than Noé’s original cut.
The full list of theaters and dates can be found here.