Back in 2002, director Gaspar Noé unleashed the emotional onslaught Irréversible upon the world. At the Cannes film festival, reports of audiences walking out (and in some cases fainting) during screenings piqued interest in the film. Reactions poured in, and people questioned Noé’s motivation behind using acts of brutality and ultra-violence as centerpieces in the film.
As if by dare, cinephiles around the globe climbed into theaters to answer the question, “Is Irréversible a brilliant rebuttal to the revenge film, or merely an shameful exercise in gimmickry?” Defenders of the former argued that while sensational, the reworked timeline and presentation of the violent acts combined to create a dissertation on the fragility and futility of life. After all, the tagline for the film is, “Time destroys everything.”
Detractors felt Noé was guilty of painting a hateful and homophobic picture of homosexual men — specifically by portraying Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) first as a violent rapist, and later being beaten to death by Marcus (Vincent Cassel) with a fire extinguisher. The feeling at the time was that Le Tenia did not need to be homosexual for the plot to work, and that in doing so Noé created an opportunity to literally and viscerally gay bash.
My take, which is wholly based on multiple viewing of the film, is that Le Tenia’s orientation and backstory is actually used to create added confusion, something that is rarely captured in films dealing with these types of scenarios. Our brains are hardwired to seek out a sense of understanding when confronted with the unexplainable, and our desire to reason through the unreasonable often creates frustration when processing complex crimes such as rape.
Personally, Noé’s decision to reverse chronology trumps the accusation of homophobic revenge tale. We witness the crime resulting from Le Tenia’s actions before we ever see what he is supposedly guilty of. Note the word choice, as Marcus is as guilty (if not moreso) of committing a crime in the end. The ultimate message behind the film resonates more in the “what does revenge solve?” camp, than that of the redemption tale.