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Time Ruins Everything. A monotonous rhythmic sound blares in the background and dim red, orange, and yellow lights pulse in a gay bar known as The Rectum where a rather hesitant Pierre tries, but with no success, to talk some sense into his friend Marcus who is blinded with rage and frantically searching for le Tenia. "You're not human anymore," Marcus says. "Even animals don't revenge themselves." Barely listening, Marcus storms around the bar continuing desperately in search of this le Tenia. He does not know who he is, nor does he know what he looks like. He just knows he needs to seek revenge.
Aside from the film being very bold and heavily characterized by two of the most brutally violent scenes of revenge and rape, Gaspar Noé's Irreversible (2002) is more than that. Irreversible goes beyond the conventional plot and time structure, successfully giving the simple yet dark storyline an even more horrific and unsettling tinge which would have otherwise not been easily achieved if it were portrayed using typical chronological order and cinematography.
The storyline may be nothing unique for there are many films whose theme revolves around a committed crime and then a loved one's consequent thirst for revenge, yet there is something strikingly different and not common to most films-the events are told in reverse. What makes telling the story in reverse have a strong impact to viewers is that we are given a certain hindsight as to what would eventually happen. In essence, what would go on in the viewer's mind is the questions: why did it happen? What particular event has led it to happen? It would also then give the viewer a certain frustration and uneasiness when he or she comes to find out the series of events that has led it to that inevitable moment. The audience is already granted that premonition and expects, for instance, that Marcus somehow foresee that leaving Alex to go home alone by herself would not be the best idea and that it would in fact change his life forever, but alas, humans are only human and we are ignorant of what lies ahead of us. Moreover, the violent rape and revenge scenes are shown during the first half of the film; therefore the audience immediately knows that there is no happy ending to it, that impending doom waits upon Alex, Marcus, and Pierre.
Say the story was told using the linear conventional plot. The only elements that would still keep the harrowing effect would be, of course, the seemingly endless rape scene, and the brutal fight at the Rectum. It would completely have lost its essence for it would just be another one of those no-brainer movies that build up to gratuitous violence and nudity. If there story were told in correct chronological sequencing, the audience would not be deprived of the hope that the characters' actions and choices will always work for their good, and so, Irreversible would have totally lost its underlying theme: that we cannot change the course of our fate. Starting off the first parts of the film with the most horrifying scenes of the future does not allow that kind of hope-the hope that one of our decisions will alter the course of our destiny.
The film also allows the audience to see the characters' choices in a different light. For instance, the audience would see Alex in her revealing dress and immediately see, because of the preceding tragedy, that the choice of her wearing such a dress would show her to be vulnerable and in danger instead of being initially seen as just an attractive woman going to a party. During the rape scene, in her moment of utter helplessness, she still musters up the strength to fight the rapist all throughout the entire rape. Here, Alex is shown as a fighter, a strong-willed woman. Although she lost, she did not stop fighting. This particular characteristic of hers highlights her appeal, sweetness, and tenderness since we realize that she is capable of so much more than those. And then there is Marcus, driven by madness, who is seen at first as the bad guy in the story. Later on, the audience then realizes the justifications for his actions, and their views of him are changed, as it does throughout every scene.
There are namely a few things in the film that provide a sense of frustration because of its cruel irony. In the end (or beginning) of the film, Alex and Marcus cuddle in bed while she tells him her dream. She dreamt that she was walking alone in a red tunnel when all of a sudden, the tunnel broke into two. At the middle part of the story though, we see that Alex tells Pierre and Marcus about the book she is reading, how it is about how our future is completely decided, that everything is fixed, and you may have a glimpse of it in prophetic dreams. This would lead one to deduce that she has in fact "seen" her future. She knew, at some level, something that she would not be able to foresee. As the tunnel in her dream snapped into two, so did her life, as we had witnessed in the earlier part of the movie. When she and Marcus romantically frolic around the bedroom, he whispers in her ear in the sweetest way possible that he wants to have anal sex. Playfully, Alex pushes him away, laughing, "No! I thought you were going to say something romantic!" Here, the audience sees how tenderness brought this whole act a more playful ring to it. Although she dismisses the thought of it, what she does not know, and what we know, is that she will inevitably be submitting to that act. Alex also stated that the women enjoy the act of engaging in sexual intercourse when she knows that the man only thinks about himself, and yet again, what she does not know, and what the audience already knows is that that statement is not entirely true. That she will engage in the most horrific affair that will change her life forever.
Irreversible's material and content, primarily the infamous violent scenes, are barely watchable for a reason. This can be seen as Noé's subtle way to promote anti-violence and anti-rape. Ironic as it is that the most violent scenes promote such, there is actually much sense to it. Noé shows us the true nature about violence and rape. If one were to compare the violent scene in most Hollywood movies to the ones in Irreversible, one would most likely say that those in Irreversible are not for entertainment purposes. Violence shown in most Hollywood films is the kind that can be watched by most over and over again because of the minimized effect it has therefore making it easier to get over, and even sometimes more enjoyable. On the other hand, we have those scenes in Irreversible, the kind that makes one feel that one is actually participating in the beating, or that one is the one getting beaten up. It is almost so realistic that it is definitely not the type of violence that can be enjoyed. Same applies for the rape scenes. All rape scenes are always tragic and distasteful, but Noé portrayed it in a sense that one would never find a rape joke funny ever again. The scenes are everything but sanitized, therefore revealing the true nature of such barbaric acts they really are.
The movie tells us that revenge is futile. The saying "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" does means nothing. Revenge is clearly shown as an instinct, a momentarily but dominating emotion, that goes away as quickly as it had come, achieving nothing since revenge will not take back what time has already stolen and what it has already broken.
The movie also tells us that time indeed ruins everything. No matter what we do, even if it means taking revenge, it will do nothing. We may point fingers at who we would like to believe is at fault, but the only thing we could blame is time. We then therefore have to accept our powerlessness against it, that we humans are incapable of undoing what has been done, resetting what has already been set, and just let what has already been written run its course.
Noé could not have imparted such messages if he had done it the conventional way. His exceptional prowess with cinematography and direction successfully made Irreversible an undeniably unforgettable film leaving viewers the notion to be critical of the world we live in yet to make the most out of living in it.