Few films have ever inspired genuine shock like Irréversible when it released over twenty years ago. Director Gaspar Noé was mostly unknown outside of cinephile until Irréversible landed at Cannes. Upon its release, the story of a woman’s rape and the lengths her boyfriend and ex-lover would go to avenge her became wildly controversial. While many, including myself, would not consider themselves a “fan” of the film, it remains an immaculately crafted film that only looks better in its new 2K restoration. However, Noé chose to alter the DNA of his story by significantly altering its structure. The new director’s re-cut, titled Irréversible: The Straight Cut, imbues the story with more empathy for Monica Bellucci. However, it also strengthens claims about the story’s homophobic lens.
Irréversible tells a gripping tale, despite boasting a minimalist tale. One night, Alex (Bellucci) goes out to a party. She brings her boyfriend Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and ex-lover Pierre (Albert Dupontel). While Alex once went out with Pierre, she left him for Marcus. Over the night, the three continue to talk about love and sex. Alex decides to go home ahead of them because Marcus makes a fool of himself while drunk at the party. When she leaves, a chance encounter in the subways leads to a brutal rape and beating by “Le Tenia” (Jo Prestia). When Marcus and Pierre discover what happened to Alex, they begin to hunt down Le Tenia.
The story barely contains a plot, but Irréversible made its name on its visceral imagery and disorientation. The story of Irréversible was famously one that featured an inverse timeline, allowing sequences to play out in reverse order while the scenes would play forward in time. The result was a slightly disorienting story that changes from the darkness of human existence into one we want to relish.
The idea that time simply distorts life and that what is coming for us may be out of our control made Irréversible a phenomenon. It also changed what many believed was capable with a camera, as the grotesque became far more tangible. Irréversible: The Straight Cut must live up to a considerable reputation, and the shadow of its predecessor looms over this re-cut.
Two aspects that surely improve are Irréversible: The Straight Cut‘s ability to let us understand who Alex is before we’ve already seen what men were willing to do for her. Instead of random acts of extreme violence, we build to understand the relationship. Bellucci gets to truly shine, not only because she creates a fully human character in limited screen time. She gets to enjoy life before tragedy befalls her. When we watch The Straight Cut, there is a genuine wish that Alex’s future could be rewritten.
One could argue the re-cut further strengthens Noé’s claim that time ruins everything, and in some twisted way, he appears to be right. Nothing we do can stop the inevitable march toward the alley. Until the incident begins, The Straight Cut allows us to relish her life before the violence instead of defining her solely through the lens of her rape. However, because she immediately disappears from the film, she becomes crippled in our minds by the event. How can you ever imagine Alex will find happiness or that she can return to the person we’ve grown to love in the first fifty minutes? This is the kind of edge lord nihilism that decides its characters should suffer for the sake of it.
Another benefit of linear storytelling is our ability to understand its relation to our lives. Our life moves forward through time, and thus, aspects of a non-experimental psychological thriller allow the tension to build instead of dissipate. This seems to boost the power of Noé’s story, but some positives detract from that notion. Namely, the pacing works better in Irréversible: The Straight Cut. Noé cannot rely on the oddity of his transitions, and they would make even less sense in a linear tale. A straightforward timeline allows Noé to cut out the fluff that was long considered essential to the experience.
However, The Straight Cut misses Alex when she disappears from our story. While the original cut of Irréversible disoriented us from the word go but leaves the violence behind as we progress further into the story, the opposite must be true here. When the violence is uncorked, the story reaches a fever dream. Like Marcus and Pierre, the rape sequence wants us to make someone pay for the vile filth of the world. Yet the truth becomes even more apparent in this version: the boys get the wrong guy. The disorienting style of the original cut hides this fact, but Irréversible: The Straight Cut leaves no room for ambiguity.
Again, Noé plunges us into existential terror. Even went the intentions are just, Irréversible: The Straight Cut makes it clear that mob violence rarely solves any crimes. Yet, we continue to push for it. As a culture, many want to take control back into their lives. A violation of that control leaves us beaten down. Noé never makes the claim that humanity is like Alex. The long and violent rape sequence is an assertion of control by Noé over his audience. Again, this nihilism does little but force everyone involved to suffer. The final act becomes even more challenging to watch as two men mistakenly try to avenge their love, only to misunderstand who they are attacking. The pointlessness of it all becomes even more evident in this re-cut. The entire endeavor proves the stylistic choices of the original cut were correct.
While artistically proficient, Irréversible pushes the audience to despair. This has always been the case, but The Straight Cut does little to improve the film. While it adds slightly more cohesion to the storyline, it also loses Irréversible‘s best attribute: the turn to a somehow brighter world. While no one will claim Irréversible to be a “feel-good story,” it allows us to understand the relationships that drive it. In The Straight Cut, we instead see a descent into darkness that genuinely feels like a thousand other tragedies. At least the original presents the story in a method we had never seen.