By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
George Orwell wrote that Salvador Dali was a genius — from the wrist down. I’m tempted to say that Noé is a genius from the retina out, but the truth is actually trickier than that. He’s a surrealist trapped in the blood-spattered uniform of a torturer. The totalitarian bully in Noé wants to control our emotions, as he did in I Stand Alone when he used random offscreen gunfire to keep us continually on edge. Here, he carries on with Alex’s rape long after we’ve grasped its horror — and long after we’ve become horrified that we’re no longer horrified. Noé’s not turned on by sexual violence the way Brian De Palma has seemed to be; rather, he gets off on the idea that we won’t like watching it. His filmmaking hero is Stanley Kubrick (Noé calls Irreversible his Eyes Wide Shut, though it’s really more like A Clockwork Orange), and they clearly share a certain misanthropy, a certain homophobia and a desire to clobber the audience. But where Kubrick’s baleful vision was mature in its breadth of interest, Noé too often seems like a post-adolescent bad boy who’s read a few slim volumes of Bataille and now is hell-bent on proving that the rest of us can’t face up to reality as unflinchingly as he does. At his worst, he seems prepared to keep working us over until we start shrieking, “I admit it! Life is buggery! Deep down we’re all killers! I’m so bourgeois I can’t bear seeing the truth!”
Of course, many modern artists are cheapjack nihilists, but it doesn’t much matter — they don’t have the talent to put their vicious imaginings across. Noé does, and what gives his work such primal force is that he’s also an authentic surrealist. His work gets under our skin because it starts out under his, in the dreamy netherworld of the unconscious. You can’t intellectualize the rage that fills I Stand Alone’s horsemeat butcher; you can only feel it and tap into it. You can’t choose to portray a gay club with such visceral fear and loathing; it must spring from deep in your belly. Like David Lynch, Noé is drawn to things he doesn’t want to understand or control. (Indeed, Irreversible is rife with obsessional imagery, like that symbolic series of tunnels linking the Rectum to the rectum.)
It would take a psychologist to explain why, like a husband who can only feel love for his wife after he’s beaten her, Noé once again needs to frog-march us through a chamber of horrors before he allows any glimpse of peace. That peacefulness does come in the last third of Irreversible, which slowly builds to an idyll of creative, intimate love between Alex and Marcus (Bellucci and Cassel are a real-life couple). Although the movie’s tag line — and its original title — is “Time destroys all things,” that’s not really the point, for Noé shows us how art puts things back together again. If you find yourself at all moved by the film, as I unexpectedly was, it’s because Noé hacks his way through all that nightmarish violence to discover human beings in a state of radiant innocence. Indeed, the movie’s final shot is a portrait of bliss that may be the most thrilling movie image you’ll see this year, a vision of heaven to match the hell of the beginning.
But then, as the film closes, Gaspar the Torturer reappears, assailing us with a technique made famous by Tony Conrad’s 1966 film, The Flicker — a series of strobing flashes known to cause headaches and nausea and epileptic attacks. It says all you need to know about this amazing director’s profound human limitations that he deliberately chooses to end with something that might give his audience seizures.
IRREVERSIBLE | Written and directed by GASPAR NOÉ Produced by CHRISTOPHE ROSSIGNON | Released by Lions Gate Films | At the Regent Showcase, Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Laemmle’s Playhouse
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