Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Time Destroys All (Irreversible)

A few days ago I watched Gaspar Noe's first film, I Stand Alone, and in the context of talking about that I was talking about Irreversible, which made me want to see the film again, so yesterday I watched the film for the third time. Now, here, I talked about the basics of the film and why I liked it, but on this third viewing I got something a bit different out of it than I did before.

Having seen I Stand Alone, I liked the closure on that story, and the fact that the Butcher, who thought he had it all figured out, ended up in jail, and has his dream of a life with his daughter ruined. I Stand Alone ended on a pretty upnote, and while the audience is disturbed, the Butcher is clearly happy for the first time in the film. So, we begin the film seeing that a happy ending doesn't last, he's now left distraught.

Having seen the film a few times, I can take a more distant perspective and keep the whole film in mind while watching the early scenes. The first time seeing the film, the first scene is disorienting, you don't know what's going on, but here I was able to follow things, and it's really sad. If that was the end of the film, it would be the most brutal film of all time, becuase you'd be left completely distraught, with nothing good left. Luckily, it's only the beginning, but having seen the film, it's deeply affecting to watch Pierre sitting there in the police car, having thrown away his entire life because of Marcus' desire for vengeance. Marcus will walk, but Pierre is going to be the one to pay for his animalistic desire in the first half of the film. Not to say that Marcus got off easy, his arm is broken and Alex is in a coma, his world has been destroyed as well, and he's going to have deal with the guilt of knowing that his stupid behavior at the party was what made her leave, and led to her being raped.

The Rectum sequence was really disturbing the first time I saw it, and it still is, but I'm familiar with it so it's not as shocking. Noe does a great job of creating a hell for his characters to go around in, and of course the violence at the end is still shocking. Noe's constantly moving camera leaves you really uneasy, and completely immerses you in these characters' mindset. You see Marcus getting dragged down further and further into the filth of this world, this is what his vengeance has brought him.

The next chunk of scenes further degrade the characters, and show you the complete folly of the desire for vengeance that these characters have. They keep going through these awful situations, trying to get to the Rectum. There's some dazzling camera work in the sequence where they steal the cab, the camera moves in and out of the cab with no cuts, I know they did a CG thing with the glass, but I don't understand how it was done other than that. It's a simple shot, with such a convincing effect you don't think about it, but once you go deeper, it's unbelieable what he does there. I feel like this part of the film is basically designed to show you how ridiculous the desire for revenge is. It's only making Marcus worse, and is doing nothing to help Alex. Pierre is constantly saying they should go visit Alex, but Marcus ignores him and things get worse as a result. At the end of the film, no one benefits, and the revenge ends up failing because they don't even get the right guy.

This film is a great statement against revenge because of the way it removes the vengeance from the act that motivates it. On first viewing, you're disgusted by Pierre when he kills the guy, but when you see the rape scene, it makes you understand what they were doing. I know when I was watching Alex struggling, I really understood what was driving Pierre at that moment. But, you also understand that the revenge is doing nothing good, their lives are destroyed because of it, and they don't even get the right guy. Clearly, it's a statement against vigilante justice. One of the thugs says, "Vengeance is a human right," and that may be, but it's not a right that gets us anything. It doesn't make Alex better, and it doesn't make the crime go away. Trying to get revenge only make things worse, and that's what the film shows us.

I think Noe uses the backwards narrative in a brilliant way throughout the film, but one of the most effective instances is when we see Alex's injured face, an absoultely disgusting image, evidence of such cruelty, and then jump back in time where we see Monica Bellucci, one of the most beautiful women in the world. Who could do what was done to her? That's the question, and the one that is answered when we see La Tenia in the tunnel. The beauty of this sequence, as she walks out of the party and into the streets, is that we know what's coming, and in each moment, she makes a little decision that brings her to that place. The taxi that doesn't arrive, the hooker who tells her to take the underpass, her momentary hesitation when she passes La Tenia beating the hooker, if things had been different only by seconds, she would never have been raped, and their lives would have never been destroyed. But the world seemed to conspire to bring her to this point, which ties in with a point discussed later about the fact that the future is already written, we're just living it, which I think gets to one of the core points of the film.

The midpoint of the film serves as a transition between the two stories of the film, one is essentially Marcus and Pierre's, while the second half is all about Alex. The first time I watched the film I was still reeling from the stuff that happened in the first half, and I couldn't really appreciate the second half of the film. I saw it as basically a long cool down period, that plays with your emotions a little bit, but only in relation to the beginning of the film. On this viewing, I saw that the two halves of the film are equally important, the second half isn't meant as just a comment on the first, it's a great story in its own right, and one is absolutely crucial to the film's development. I think it's very easy to get caught up in discussing the more controversial bits of the film and lose track of the more subtle pieces in the second half of the film.

Probably my favorite scene in the film is party scene, which is technically phenomenal. It's another really long take, moving all around the party, switching from character to character on occasion and making you feel like you are a guest at the party hanging out with the characters. If I had to guess, I'd say this is probably the longest scene of the film, and the improvised dialogue tells us so much about the characters. Having just seen the extended rape scene, we obviously view the party to some extent through the knowledge we have of what's about to happen, making stuff like Alex dancing with her friends both beautiful and sad. On the first viewing, all I could think of was that she'd never dance like that again, but on this time I was able to appreciate the fact that this was probably the last moment in her life that she was happy, and at least that's something. I saw her as a person, not solely defined by the crime that is committed to her. I love her trying to drag Pierre out onto the dance floor, and him saying he just wants to watch.

The other crucial bit is this scene is when Alex is talking to her pregnant friend. You don't know it the first time, but she herself is pregnant, and clearly can connect to what she's saying. Knowing what we know is going to happen to her, one of the toughest scenes is when Alex and Marcus argue. She says, "You can be so gentle," which is such a contrast to his goofy funboy persona at the party. He's someone who clearly always has to be the center of attention at a party, and that's why he has to snort coke and drink. His behavior makes her decide to leave the party, and it's that decision that ultimately destroys all their lives. You know that Marcus will relive those moments for the rest of his life, and be torn over with regret about the fact that he was the one who made Alex decide to leave. And then in the conversation with Pierre, she tells him to watch out for Marcus rather than go with her, and that's a decision that ultimately leads to Pierre being sent to prison. Because we know what's to come, each of these decisions takes on so much more significance, it's those two simple decisions that lead to everything that happens.

In the scene before they go to the party, Alex, Pierre and Marcus are in an elevator and she talks about the idea that all of time is already written, essentially presenting a 4-D view of time, similar to that which Grant Morrison talks about in The Invisibles. I think this one line is the crucial key to understanding the thematic point of the film. The title at the end of the film says "Time Destroys All," which would mean that without time our moments of happiness would live on forever. Time is the villain of this film, because it's what brings Alex to the moment where she is raped. But, what Noe does with the film's struucture is take the viewer outside of time and see everything reconstructed instead of destroyed. He gives us a 4-D perspective over events, a perspective which is especially apparent when you've seen the film already.

When you watch a film you engage in a linear progression through time, that is what makes film a unique medium, it is the only medium that can capture the passage of time. So, when you watch a film the first time, it's like living life, everything's already written, but you don't know what's going to happen, so it's like it's new to you. When you are in a 3-D time continuum the great variable is the future. When you rewatch a film, you already know what is going to happen, but you are encouraged to re-engage in the 3-Dimensional view of time, and journey through the story again. This film, even on the first viewing, blatantly challenges traditional notions of the passage of time in a film. By structuring the film from end to beginning, Noe forces you to first view events without context, and thus evaluate them without any sort of moral bias, and then later in the film, makes you look at events with knowledge that the characters don't hold, so you see sadness in scenes where the characters are perfectly content. It inverts your normal emotional reactions because you have a different view of time than in the traditional film. But, on the first viewing, your knowledge of the characters' future so colors your perception of their present that you are unable to engage with them in their emotional context at that moment.

However, once you've seen the film a couple of times, the trauma at the beginning of the film exerts less influence and you see the film in a less linear way. Each viewing of the film gradually takes you further away from viewing the film as a linear time continuum, and more as a series of moments, each existing, each valid. So, the less you view things as a passage of time, the less things are destroyed. Time may destroy all eventually, we all end up dead, but if all time is already written, that means that each moments exists in space-time always. So, despite the awful events that happen to the characters, the sweet moments from the end (chronological beginning) of the film will always be there.

The most notable sweet moment is the scene in which Alex and Marcus wake up and get ready for the party. When we see Marcus earlier in the film, he's a bit of a bastard, and inadvertantly leads to the destruction of Alex and Pierre's lives, but here, we can understand why she likes him. They're great together, and the whole warmth of this scene is such a contrast to the danger and violence of earlier in the film. The fact that they're both so comfortable naked around each other implies a safety that both of them feel, something that Alex will probably never feel again because of what La Tenia did to her. I love the song that's playing during this scene, and the little hints that Noe gives to make us remember that even though things are good now they won't be forever: Alex's resistance to Marcus' come ons, and his suggestion that they try anal sex. It doesn't affect them, but it pains the viewer. My favorite image in this scene is of Marcus kissing Alex through the shower curtain. In that context it's an expression of their love but the viewer is forced to think of her as a dead body in plastic, since it's quite possible she will die. The scene is another dazzling long take, and the two characters' rapport is so natural, this great moment they share is a memory they both will treasure once the pain of what happened begins to fade away.

The ending of the film just drives home more what they've lost. Alex is pregnant, and she has so much hope for her future, hope that is cruelly taken away. On the first viewing, this moment was incredibly sad, because we know what will happen, but here I could share her happiness. Even though she'll never have the baby, this moment of happiness will always be there, and her dreams of the life she might have will never come true, but that doesn't mean that dreaming is without purpose. The second half of the film presents some isolated moments of happiness, and maybe that's all we can hope for. Bad things will happen, we all end up dead, but hopefully we'll live to the fullest the time we have. That's the message I see from this film, that all of us are going to run into awful events at some time or another, so live to the fullest while you can, now is all we have. Will Alex have regrets, of course, but from what we can see, she had happiness in her life, and she had love, and even the rapist can't destroy the past.

This is a film that's so deep, and works on so many levels, I could talk about it forever, but a couple of things I want to note. I love the final few images, the spiralling around the sprinkler, the 2001 poster, the park, just beautiful. I think the acting in this film is some of the most natural and affecting in all of cinema. It must have been tough for Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, who are married in real life, to do some of the scenes, but they each excel, and the improvised dialogue feels very real. Technically, I can only think of a couple of films that approach this in terms of scope and execution. It's not an easy film, but so many films think of the viewer as an idiot, it's refreshing to see something that will challenge the way you think about film, and the way you think about life. I've seen it three times, and while it's less shocking each time, it's also even better each time.


NY3NE said...

Funny your name is Patrick as well...seems to be a rare name these days. Your review was most enjoyable to read...I share many similar views, but it was delightful to read them verbatim while they remain stuck in my head without another person to discuss with.

It's also interesting to note the words of the rapist as an animal and him doing what he did for his own enjoyment satisfaction and revenge on women. It's ironic that Alex told Pierre on the train that the reason he can't get women to climax is because he's too altruistic...that indeed it is more beneficial (sexually) for both partners if the man is selfish and seeks his own satisfaction. Quite ironic I think.

Patrick said...

I've run into a bunch of Patricks in my travels, but I'd agree that it's rare next to a lot of names. That's for the best though.

And I totally agree on the train conversation. In light of what we just saw, Alex being raped, it's so tough to watch her saying that men need to be more selfish. The brilliance of the film's structure is that instead of what happened before just being build up to set up the world, it becomes this incredibly painful series of ordinary events, as we have to watch the characters blissfully unaware of what will happen to them.

I think Noe's one of the best filmmakers out there today and I can't wait to see his next movie.

Anonymous said...

A very detailed, informed review which I deeply enjoyed, thank you. I share most of your views. There is however one correction I would make!

Film is not the only medium that records time. Sound anyone? Music? How could you forget your wonderful ears? The film's sound is so meticulously and perfectly designed and manipulated. There are the Rectum's dizzying low tones, the Party, the Metro. The ending scenes become progressively more silent until the loud climactic end.

It is truly a landmark film, and it is unfortunate that it's violence and sexuality seems too powerful for some viewers - because beneath those horrible scenes lies a true, powerful message. It's a film that can only be understood by mature, open minded individuals. Thankfully, we have all passed the test...

Anonymous said...

Hi ya did alex have a miscarriage while she was being raped?

Patrick said...

That's definitely implied, and only adds to the tragedy of what happened.

Anonymous said...

Thanks patrick, it definately adds to the overwhelming sadness of the movie.

buy viagra without prescription said...

This is that kind of film where you can see the perfect passion between an old and young woman, that's perfect because it shows us love doesn't have age.m10m

viagra online said...

Not to say that Marcus got off easy but you should add something else about him, his arm is broken and and we want to watch his pictures. said...

It can't succeed in fact, that is what I think.

Unknown said...

Good review

Unknown said...

Good review

Unknown said...

Good review

1bivanmendez said...

Interesting thoughts on the film. This film is complex. It is hard to extract any moral out of it. For instance, regarding sexuality, as one user intelligently pointed out, there are "ironic" instances and behaviours, as with her talking about selfishness in sex, the anal sex suggestion by Markus at the end, her telling she is not an object... i would even say her provocative dancing and dress at the party. It is as if she had a naive conception of men, women and sexuality that ultimately is proven against her She is ultimately destroyed by a man that in a way, used her as a sexual object in a parallel way to that of her two lovers. Yes, Markus and Pierre were kind to her but in the end possessed here. Even Pierre's jokes in the metro are obscene; how can he talk with Markus about what to do to make her cum in front of her, as if talking of repairing a car?

The truth is I don't know what Noe's view on this may be. He is obsessed with sex. He is a great director, with a very enjoyable filming that innovates, but he should try different topics rather than sex, eternity, sex, universe, sex and nihilism.

1bivanmendez said...

By the way, by commenting here I feel like I'm travelling in time. Thats the magic of the internet... The 4D dimension of time you said there, perhaps.