Film Review: Irreversible: Straight Cut corrects narrative cohesion but maintains Gaspar Noé’s psychological devastation

  • Peter Gray
  • February 11, 2023
  • Comments Off on Film Review: Irreversible: Straight Cut corrects narrative cohesion but maintains Gaspar Noé’s psychological devastation

Few films have shocked me in the manner of Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible.

Released in cinemas some 20 years ago, it arrived off the back of its storming Cannes controversy, thrusting the relatively unknown (at least to anyone who didn’t consider themselves a “cinephile”) Noé into somewhat-mainstream relevance.  The film’s storyline, or more correctly its treatment of, earned rightful aversion from audiences brave enough to bare witness, with the main culprit being an unbroken, 9-minute long rape sequence that tested even the strongest of wills.

Irreversible is not what you’d call a pleasant film in any manner, and I wouldn’t even say I’m a fan as such, but it’s certainly crafted in a way that’s difficult to not admire and acknowledge its impact.  But would such an impact as detailing its story in the reverse fashion it originally adhered to – where the aforementioned rape scene and a graphically violent assault scene involving a fire extinguisher and a man’s skull play initially out of context – be cheapened with the film correcting itself; reversing the reversal?

The film partly made a name for itself in how disorienting and visceral it was to watch as a viewer.  The plot is simple, if non-existent, but because of how the original structure saw its narrative play its sequences in reverse order, whilst the scenes themselves played forward in time, there was undeniable, perhaps perverse fascination in watching a man be brutally bludgeoned to death with no initial rhyme or reason; similarly, as vile a set-piece the aforementioned rape scene is, the lack of understanding just why it’s happening keeps us intrigued – even against our better judgement.

Said plot is minimalistic, to say the least, but no less gripping as it details the passionate love between Alex (Monica Bellucci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel), and the night that would essentially seal their fates.  Heading to a party with Alex’s ex in tow, Pierre (Albert Dupontel), the trio wax lyrical on sex and relationships, but as the drinks continue to flow for the volatile Marcus, Alex leaves in protest, encountering Le Tenia (Jo Prestia) in a pedestrian underpass on her way home, which results in the aforementioned rape scene.  Learning of what has happened – to cap off the already despicable act, Alex is brutally beaten unconscious – Marcus and Pierre hunt down Le Tenia, which leads them to a gay BDSM club and the eventual bludgeoning sequence.

The throughline that time destroys everything and what the fates allow can’t be controlled from within gave the original cut of Irreversible a certain psychological elevation.  It confronted us with the grotesque before we even had a chance to digest it.  Irreversible: Straight Cut has something of a reputation to contend with in that regard, and whilst it’s equally as devastating to watch, there are now different levels of complexity on hand with a story that no longer “ends” on a happier note; the learning of Alex’s pregnancy was an absolute gut punch in the original format.

The original cut framed Alex solely through the lens of her rape, and because it was a film that “opened” with graphic brutality, the eventual softening edges Noé indulges in are imbued with an angering sadness.  In Straight Cut, that anger and sadness is still there from the moment she is raped – depending on if you’ve seen the original film or not – though it can’t help but further a layer of emotional anxiety in truly wanting Alex’s future to be rewritten.  Similarly, any ambiguity that the original cut played into regarding whether or not Marcus and Pierre exacted bloody revenge on the correct person is dismissed.  They naturally want to see the world burn for what it did to Alex, but in the heat of their anger they ultimately light the match for their own ignition.

Whilst Irreversible: Straight Cut may ultimately narrow the course of a dark tragedy and remove any of the originality Noé exercised with his veritable vision, it layers the narrative with a certain cohesion, an added empathy, and a parallel lining of psychological exploration.


Irreversible: Straight Cut is playing theatrically in Los Angeles, New York and select cities from February 10th, 2023.  Gaspar Noé’s original 2002 version also screening in select cities in a 2K digital restoration and a new 35mm print.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.