EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE IRREVERSIBLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING

I’ve waited a long time, perhaps too long, to write about “Irreversible.” I’ll state my opinion now, though, so that I can get it out of the way: I loved the film. I like the film’s director, Gaspar Noe, and I think his movies are incredible. Other critics agree, but there are some out there who couldn’t stomach his latest revenge-tainted drama. Audiences had a hard time with the film, too. In fact, a woman I know told me I was sick for watching this film and my wife was just as sick because she “let” me. She said the film glorified rape and was very anti-woman.

You have to love tolerant Americans. They are always quick to jerk their knees in just the right direction.

One film critic, whose opinion on the French movie leaves no room for misinterpretation, is Barry Paris of the Post-Gazette. His April 11, 2003 review advises people to “run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction” of the film, which is the “sickest French/(Freedom) flick ever to pollute a Coalition-of-the-Willing screen.” The film, according to the review, is “unrated but X in nature for graphic sex and extreme violence.”

Wow. Where to start?

First, anyone who replaces the word “French” with “Freedom” is an idiot. I don’t care who it is and what the reasons are for the switch. Saying crap like “freedom fries” just marks you as an asshole, and there is no place for it in a critique. It’s not professional. End of story.

Now onto meatier matters.

One of Paris’ most heated complaints about the film involves the controversial rape scene which was mentioned in virtually every review of the movie. He objects to it because it is “excruciatingly long” and “sickening.” He then calls “Irreversible” a “virtual porn-snuff film,” a much harsher term than critic Jeff Vice’s “art-porn” label, and proudly states that this was the “first and only” film he ever “willingly walked out on midway — in protest and irreversible revulsion.”

Kudos to Paris for walking out of a movie he’s reviewing before it is even over. That’s doing your job properly, chap.

I don’t know Paris, and nor am I familiar with the Post-Gazette. That doesn’t matter, though, because his review echoed much of the negative press I read about the film. (Those critics who gave it a positive review seemed to understand what it was about. But those who hated it … boy! At least critic Moira Sullivan took a more intellectual route with her review when she stated that the “rape/revenge scenes” served to “arouse” the “reptilian brain.”

Few negative critics even pretended to actually engage in a civilized dissection of the film.) Those are opinions, however, and I won’t fault someone for disliking what was on the screen. What I do take exception to, however, is the fact that Paris and many other critics had such a problem with the dreaded rape scene.

Many people found it difficult to sit through the scene, myself included.

It is long, and the camera focuses on it — finally stopping its wild movements for the first time in the film. You are there, as they used to say. It’s not pretty. It is graphic. And a lot of people despised the film for that, some walking out before the scene even ended.

I find that disrespectful.

Why shouldn’t a rape scene be graphic? Noe showed the crime as it is, and that crime isn’t a gentle one. Why shouldn’t people see things how they are? Why would people go into a drama to escape the reality of life? Why would people want to see this crime glossed over? Sure, it’s easier to dismiss that way, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to watch, but why should we always be given the easy way out — especially from a filmmaker known to push the envelope? Would people have accepted the movie if the rape was off camera and not so in-your-face? Wouldn’t Noe be doing a disservice to audiences then? He was making a film about life, man’s violent nature and how certain acts can change everything. For the film to work, brutal acts had to be portrayed honestly.

“Bloodsucking Freaks” was an exploitive movie that used violence against women (and some men) as a tool to titillate and shock. “Irreversible” doesn’t do that, but it does use violence (portrayed more realistically than anything I’ve ever seen in a film) to make its point. It’s not supposed to make film audiences feel good about themselves or be comfortable watching a woman being raped. It’s definitely not there to arouse the reptilian brain. It’s there to provide an emotional impact that centers the film. So how can anyone criticize a director for showing a brutal crime like rape to be anything but what it is?

You can make the argument that we know rape is brutal so we don’t have to have it shown, but it’s obvious that most of us just don’t know how brutal it can be. Obvious because critics and audience members walked out after that, afraid to face what may be coming next.

I felt dirty watching the scene. Not in a sexual way, though. I felt dirty to be alive, and sick to be a male. I was ready to continue the journey Noe was taking us on, though. I wasn’t going to walk away. I wasn’t going to throw feces at the screen, as one critic said he was ready to do. I have more respect than that for the victims of rape.

You know, here’s an odd fact: I’ve met more women who like this film than men. A lot of men I know can’t stand it. I wonder why that is? Is it because men don’t like being shown what they are capable of doing? Is it because women can finally point to a rape scene and say, “See that? That’s how it is. And if that makes you uncomfortable watching it, imagine it happening to you. How uncomfortable do you think that is?”

Hate the film if you want. That’s your right, and it is understandable because “Irreversible” isn’t a film for everyone. Don’t be so condescending about the rape scene, though. That’s real life there on the screen, and far too many people have gone through that to have it dismissed so easily. Show some respect, if not for the film, then for the victims of such crimes … crimes you can’t even watch because they are just too real. Crimes some critics call sickening and then take the easy way out by walking away.

At least one director had the guts to show it as it is instead of Hollywood pretty, and he took a lot of heat for it — including getting death threats. I guess he hit a little too close to home for some people, but at least they can take some solace in the fact that “General Hospital” will someday have all its episodes on DVD. On that soap opera there’s a plotline where a character named Luke rapes another character named Laura. Later they marry. I suggest that those who take offense to the rape scene in “Irreversible” watch that portion of the show. It’s right up their alley — a nice fantasy where rape leads to love and you never have to see its harmful effects. No spilled blood. No vile name calling. And they’ll never need to turn off the television because it’s too much to take.

Maybe some day we’ll all grow up. Until then we have critics like Barry Paris to steer us in the right direction.

Discuss Doug Brunell’s “Excess Hollywood” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>




Posted on June 23, 2004 in Features by
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