The Irreversible Consequences of Ignoring Sound Advice
By Janey Pancake
There is a time (or several) in each person’s life during which they bear witness to an event so impactful and change-making that they may make note of it. Of course, my intention here is to keep things light-hearted, so I am not going to regale you with my own personal version of, “I am never going to be the same after seeing this.” Rather, I would like to revisit a film that after viewing it, gave me pause.
When I was younger, I desperately longed to be worldly, sophisticated, well-traveled, well-heeled, highly educated and possessing of Experience with a capital E. Perhaps because I grew up in a relatively small town in southern Missouri, I felt that excessive film watching was a means to achieve my goals. I took a special pride in watching non-mainstream and independent films, feeling that these movies in particular would assist in padding my Interesting Person Resume. I also nurtured my big love for the horror genre by seeking out the most vile, disgusting and depraved offerings available to me. This very fact bespeaks more about the ignorance of my youth, that I felt by exposing myself to violent, gory, disturbing cinematic offerings* not only made me more accomplished somehow – I believed that viewing them also made me a better, stronger person. A person with Experience.
At some point during my mid to late twenties, my taste for depravity began to wane. I still embraced scary movies, but I found that films featuring human on human violence were too disturbing for me to enjoy any more. Paranormal and/or supernatural on human violence was fine by me, but I was unable to watch scenes depicting a person sustaining injury, torture or a horrifying death by another human being. I was caught off guard by this new development, in fact I refused to accept this aspect of my film-going nature (my therapist would call this “denial”) for some time, choosing to soldier on by making myself watch terrible things.
It was during the spring of 2003 when things finally took a turn for me. I had just successfully completed my MFA in painting and preparing for my solo thesis show had been a huge challenge. I was someone who could easily sit through four or more movies in a row and I had given up my steady diet of films to focus on my exhibit. I was delighted to have the freedom to watch a movie in a dark theater like a normal person and I wanted my first time in the chair (after fifteen months of cinematic abstinence) to be special – which makes my choice all the more tragic.
Dear readers, the film I chose to watch was Irreversible.
For the fortunate uninitiated, Irreversible is a highly controversial, non-linear film by Gaspar Noe. I suppose you could describe it as a violent revenge tale told in reverse, but I would personally describe it as a horrible assault on my eyes and the thing I wish most that I could remove from my conscience. In my defense, a trusted friend had encouraged me to view the film (though in fact, as I later learned, he himself never watched it) selling it by comforting me with the words, “Something terrible happens in this movie, but if you can get through the first 40 minutes, you will be rewarded by Awesome.” I took the bait, gathered my strength and drove to the nearest art house theater. Upon purchasing my ticket, the usher gave me a long glance and queried,
“Are you sure? You know what happens in this movie don’t you?”
I had more than an inkling – the word “sodomy” had been bandied about – but I was confident that I could handle it (I have Experience, don’t you know) so I replied,
“Oh, yeah, that. Something crappy. I hear the movie is awesome once you get passed that.”
To demonstrate my ability to weather difficult things, I stood in the concession line and nonchalantly purchased popcorn – I was about to be entertained, dammit – then I proceeded into the theater with a false sense of bravado. There were seven of us seated inside when the movie began and by the time the ending credits rolled, only two of us remained…me and (I believe) a sadistic pervert. I will always regret not leaving after the first “crappy” thing in the film occurred – a man, beaten to death by way receiving blows to the head by an assailant wielding a fire-extinguisher – and during which two people had the good sense to make themselves scarce. I am even more dumbfounded that I sat through the infamous rape scene (a nine minute-long, unrelenting act of abhorrent violence) for it was during this scene that three other film patrons made their exit. Once I was passed this part – the one I had been warned about by several, concerned theater employees – I waited for the film to become worthy of the visual trauma I had suffered.
I don’t have to tell you, dear readers, that the time I had hoped for never came. Instead I left the theater with a different realization – that I wasn’t a better, stronger, smarter, more worldly and Experienced person for having willfully witnessed something awful. I just wanted to wash my eyes clean of what had transpired before them and even more so, to have a time-machine into which I could huddle and go back to the person I was before and reclaim that splendid piece of time when my psyche was a little less damaged.
*stand-outs include, but are not limited to:
Ms. .45 (Abel Ferrara’s)
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Man Bites Dog