Article Title:Irreversible revisited
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:4th August 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:352
Text:In June last year, I reviewed a film which I described as "the most brutally homophobic film ever released" and "provocative, dehumaning trash". That film was French shocker Irreversible. At the time, it was limited to two screenings – one in Auckland, one in Wellington – at the Beck's Incredible Film Festival. With the film returning to Auckland and Wellington for general cinema release this week, it's time for a re-appraisal. But first, the controversy. Questions have even been asked in Parliament over this film. NZ First deputy leader Peter Brown has used it as part of his ongoing campaign against gay chief censor Bill Hastings, asking in Question Time on Tuesday August 2 whether Minister of Internal Affairs George Hawkins still has faith in Hastings following his decision to release the film. “I am advised that in the last 2 financial years, nine decisions by the Office of Film and Literature Classification have been upheld by the Film and Literature Board of Review. He is doing a very good job. If anything, the board says he is a little soft,” Hawkins replied. Brown asked, “Going back to the Minister's earlier answer when he said the censor is a little too soft, is he telling this House he is quite comfortable with the censor's decision to allow a brutally, sexually violent movie, described by critics as “near-unbearable, despicable violence”, and to condone it by suggesting exhibitors provide numbers for Rape Crisis and sexual abuse services at the end of the film?” “I have not seen the film,” Hawkins answered. “I do not know whether the member has seen it, but this is probably a very good way of advertising it so that more people are curious about it.” It's worth pointing out that some of you may not even get the chance to see the film anyway if a certain Christian lobby group in Wellington has its way. The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (who attempted to ban the film on its last visit) have started their battle anew. Yes, I know that's what they do for a life, but what's interesting this time around is the irony in their method. The Society are using a film which is undoubtedly the most visceral examination of male homophobia and masculine fragility ever made to promote further homophobia! And they're doing it by telling lies about the content of the film. In a press release entitled “Anal rape crisis orchestrated by Chief Censor”, the Society claims that “Irreversible” depicts “a nine minute brutal anal rape of a young pregnant woman by a drug-crazed homosexual who fantasises during the rape that he is anally raping a young virgin boy (paedophilia fanatasy)”. [sic] This rape scene is at the heart of the “Irreversible” controversy around the world. The brutality of its depiction and whether or not it should be made available to the public is worthy of discussion, but there's one problem. The bit about the “drug-crazed homosexual who fantasises during the rape that he is anally raping a young virgin boy (paedophilia fanatasy)” is a complete and utter lie. One of several in their “information.” Why does the Society feel it necessary to add detail, when it already has one of the most disturbing rape scenes in history committed to celluloid to complain about? Is it a golden opportunity to connect homosexuality and paedophilia, or merely an examination of the Society's own twisted fantasies? It could very well be the latter, seeing as someone has obviously seen fit to sit through the film with a stopwatch and time the rape scene as well. Further evidence of this is provided in the Society's next lie: “The director of the film has confessed that he got so sexually aroused during the filming of the rape scene that he couldn't hold his camera steady. He was forced to use a fixed camera to record the nine minute nightmare rape scene to avoid over excitement and intrusive and voyeuristic panning of the bodies”. Really? I couldn't find a source for this interview. But director Gaspar Noe (a heterosexual) did have this to say in an interview with Hannah Magill at Britain's National Film Theatre in October 2002: “I put the camera on the ground, and I just couldn't move it again. I would have felt ashamed of shaking the camera above her. That would be like sharing the rapist's point of view... The people who get pissed off with that scene, it's never women, it's mostly men. Mostly aggressive or control-freak men. Because they feel invaded by the movie. Men, in general, have always been afraid of being raped, from when they were kids, and as soon as they're put in a position where they have to consider a rape from a woman's point of view...” Not satisfied with the first two falsehoods, the Society decides to go for a hat-trick: “A man about to be raped in a homosexual club is bashed to death by a man using a fire extinguisher. The multiple repeated blows to the head are gratuitously filmed as the skull of the victim is gradually reduced to a sodden fractured pulp. Homosexual perverts watching the bashing are seen masturbating in the gay clubhouse called “The Rectum” as they get sexually aroused watching the bashing.” This killing does occur in the film. It has been the second point of controversy in a film which has seen commercial release in 24 countries worldwide, including Australia, Britain and the United States. Interestingly, the media outrage and reviews of the film around the world have focussed almost entirely on the rape and not on this scene, which is an unflinching depiction of a gay hate-crime killing. The Society, however, would have us believe this is actually a sick homosexual fantasy rather than a hate-motivated murder. Perhaps the Society's members might get turned on by a disenfranchised straight man mashing a gay man's face with a fire extinguisher and screaming “Faggot! Faggot!” while he does so, but that will be the last thing on the mind of any gay viewer. I wonder if the reason why this murder scene has not provoked as much outrage as the rape is because it is a gay man being killed in a sex club? The unspoken subtext of public reaction, as with the David McNee murder, is an unmistakable tone of “he deserved it so it isn't worthy of comment”. And this is where it all becomes interesting. When I first saw the film, I was incredibly angry. I couldn't believe that someone had dared to put such images on a movie screen. The gripping impotence one feels as these events play out before your eyes is mind-blowing. You are being told “This is happening – confront it”. The film dares you to run away. Is Noe being provocative for the sake of being provocative? Perhaps he is. But sometimes works of art are greater than the sum of their parts. On reflection, I believe Irreversible fits into this category. The story is a simple one, told over the course of a single day. A woman is raped and beaten by a stranger after leaving a party at which she has been neglected by her skirt-crazy, oversexed boyfriend. When he sees his girlfriend being loaded into an ambulance, he sets out for revenge, accompanied by the woman's more cultured and sensitive ex who is trying to calm him down. After trawling through the red-light districts of Paris interrogating tranny prostitutes, they eventually find the man who did it in a gay sex club (or do they?) and he is murdered, but not by the out-of-control boyfriend – by the cultured, sensitive ex who has been labelled weak and effeminate by the boyfriend in earlier scenes. The context of all these events only becomes clear by degrees, as the film unfolds in reverse, beginning with the killing, working backwards to the rape, the party, and finally to the couple at home, blissfully unaware of the irreversible events that are to come. Along the way, the fragility of masculine identity will be examined in minute observational and sociological detail; how some men over-compensate for their own sexual confusion by verbal (and sometimes physical) gay-bashing, how men of all persuasions and personality types can treat women as possessions and sexual objects, the pressure that more sensitive men have to "butch up" so they're not considered fags, and the nature of men – both straight and gay – as inherently sexual beings. This film will make you think. It will upset you. It is most definitely not recommended for anyone still in the process of coming out or in any doubt about the worthiness of their sexual identity. But for those who feel ready for it, it's an inexplicably profound experience of horror and truth. For the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards to twist the film's themes to suit their own anti-gay ideology is what is truly sickening here, but we should expect nothing less from a group of people who, with the help of their team of QCs, lobbied successfully for the free distribution of anti-gay propaganda videos which have been linked to incidents of hate crimes not far removed from those depicted in Irreversible. Chris Banks - 4th August 2004    
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