Who are the bourgeoisie? Is it you and I? – slouched, respectively, reading/writing this review. Blogging seems like a pretty bourgeois pastime. I can’t picture true aristocrats writing blogs (shooting peasants, yes; catching syphilis; maybe). Do heroes of the working class blog? Is it a proletariat thing? I guess the aristos would say so, but I dunno… you can’t ween the masses off their opiates properly if you’re sat your bedroom. So bloggers, accept it: you’re bourgeois. French director Gaspar Noé has it in for you something rotten, I’m afraid. His movie, Irreversible, is a one and half hour assault on all your petty bourgeois sensibilities, and if you pee yourself in bourgeois terror at the result, he’ll be a very happy bunny.
Irreversible is structured backwards, a bit like Momento. We begin at the scene of a murder and gradually (as time re-spools) we come to understand not who did it, but why. The murderer is a friend of the hero, but his part is incidental besides the shock that he’d do such a thing. The real story is about happy couple Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, whose happiness comes to an abrupt halt one night, and who exist to prove the movie’s maxim that “time destroys all things”.
Let me give you an idea who you’re dealing with when you watch a Gaspar Noé movie: the murder, which involves a fire extinguisher and a man’s head, lasts a full minute. One shot. One head. Repeated blows (and I repeat, repeated). It is not a shot you are likely to forget, but nor is it a shot that any sane director would want in a movie. Why does Noé leave it in? Because it’s his reason for making the movie. He wants to upset you with the level of violence. He’s that kid in kindergarten who picked apart a spider just to watch you squirm. Sure, he’s going to talk a lot of crap about holding up a mirror to society, but deep down, he knew that shot would scare you, that it would lend his movie notoriety, so he leapt at the chance (what happens to Monica Bellucci was, I’ll bet, reason No. 2 he made the movie).
There isn’t a scene in Irreversible that isn’t designed to offend somebody. So it isn’t enough for Vincent Cassel to get in an argument with a taxi driver; he has to be an Asian taxi driver! And racial epithets have to be exchanged! And then Cassel has to beat-up a trans-sexual prostitute! And say something homophobic! And beat up a gay man! And take drugs! And resort to violence when provoked every single time! Because he’s us! We – the petty bourgeois movie audience! – who are silently complicit in his debauchery; his lechery; his homophobia; his unleashed id. Why does Monica Bellucci wear a dress that’s painted on her the night she gets raped? Why else? To challenge our moral piety! Oh shudder movie audience at your own hypocrisy! Yes, just by looking at Bellucci – you probably figured there was a distinction between thinking “she looks good in that dress” and raping her – but you were wrong! Woefully wrong! And Gaspar Noé is going to keep banging you over the head with how wrong you are, until you cry “oncle”.
Whether anyone is any good in Irreversible is superfluous. The performers are here to take a beating. Vincent Cassel has a head start, because he always looks like he’s been beaten up. Monica Bellucci fills out the aforementioned dress beautifully, and looks good naked (reason No. 3 Gaspar Noé made the film).
But does anyone have these bourgeois sensibilities anymore for Noé to shatter? The audience he craves is surely Jean-Luc Godard’s audience – spitting out their coissants as the gaped at Week End. Are those guys still around in the age of YouTube? It isn’t that the sex and the violence on offer in Irreversible aren’t repugnant or shocking to a modern audience; it’s that the message of the movie seems to belong to 1968. The whole attractive-moneyed-couple-destroyed-by-interaction-with-the-Parisian-underclass thing seems a bit dated for my money, depending as it does on a bourgeois reception from the audience to nurture the shocks. My eyes started to roll about the time Vincent Cassel argued with the Asian taxi driver. You’re bourgeois: when did it happen for you?