Anal Rape Crisis Orchestrated By Chief Censor
THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF COMMUNITY STANDARDS
P.O. Box 13-683 SPCSNZ@hotmail.com
3 August 2004
Anal Rape Cinema Crisis Orchestrated By Chief Censor
Chief Censor Mr Bill Hastings has granted a general R18 cinema release to a French sex-violence film called ''Irreversible'' depicting 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). Following the rape the woman is bashed and left for dead. 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. 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. The tendency to promotion and support of sexual violence in this film is obvious. ‘The film should be classified “objectionable”’ says Society president Mr Mike Petrus.
To understand the careful ‘reasoning’ of the Chief Censor that has allowed this corrosive and degrading filth into New Zealand cinemas read his Office’s classification decision (see below) on the film complete with its instructions to cinema managers to post “Rape Crisis” and “Sexual Abuse Services” Phone Numbers in the theatre lobby. The disturbing effects of this film on audiences unfortunate enough to view this filth is well documented…..
REASONS FOR DECISION
[The Office of Film and Literature Classification]
Under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPC Act)
The publication was examined and the contents were recorded in an examination transcript. A written consideration of the legal criteria was undertaken. This document provides the reasons for the decision.
The 35mm film Irreversible was submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (Classification Office) by the distributor, Accent Film Entertainment Pty Ltd, under s42(3) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPC Act).
Section 42 provides for reconsideration of previous decisions of the Classification Office or the Film and Literature Board of Review. The Chief Censor granted leave for Irreversible to be submitted for reconsideration of the publication's classification on 9 July 2004.
The original classification of Irreversible was registered on 28 April 2003 (OFLC No. 300049). The film was classified as "Objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted for the purpose of study in a tertiary institution, or for the purpose of exhibition as part of the 2003 Beck's Incredible Film Festival or a film festival organised by an incorporated film society, and in all cases to persons who have attained the age of 18 years". The descriptive note, "Brutal sexual violence, graphic violence and sex scenes" was attached.
The distributor wishes to give the film Irreversible a theatrical release in New Zealand and asks that the Classification Office reconsiders the classification of the publication.
Description of the publication:
The publication is identical in content to the previous submission. For convenience the salient characteristics of the previous decision have been reproduced in the current decision.
Irreversible is feature film produced in France. It has dialogue in French and is subtitled in English. The storyline is a narrative of rape and revenge with twelve scenes, each presented as linear, "real time" footage, unfolding in reverse chronological order. Its three protagonists are a young woman, Alex, her lover Marcus, and Pierre, Marcus's friend and Alex's former lover. The pivotal scene is the rape of Alex, with the preceding scenes showing Marcus's misguided and ultimately disastrous quest for revenge. The scenes that follow the rape portray the relationships and sexual tensions between the three characters and give some insight to the events shown earlier. Each scene adds to the audience's understanding of the characters.
After a prologue where two down-and-outs set the scene and expound a nihilistic philosophy that is opaque at the time - the phrase "time destroys all things" appears on screen at the end of the film - the story proper begins/ends at night, outside a gay sadomasochistic sex club, the Rectum. Police and ambulance are in attendance and unknown bystanders hurl vociferous, homophobic abuse at Pierre, under arrest, and Marcus, wheeled out on a stretcher. The next scene shows Marcus frenziedly hunting a man called Le Tenia (the tapeworm) through the rooms and corridors of the club. Marcus attacks the wrong man but is overcome and his arm is broken. He is about to be raped when Pierre batters the man to death with a fire extinguisher. Subsequent episodes reveal the plot: there are chaotic scenes as Marcus, in a frenzy of animal rage, seeks his target, then local heavies offer to help Marcus seek revenge, and the two men come upon the aftermath of a violent rape and find the victim is Alex, her face destroyed. The next scene shows the rape and is followed by an interlude at a party where Marcus's laddish behaviour annoys Alex into leaving alone. The next scenes show the three characters engaged in a conversation about sex on the way to the party and Alex and Marcus together in an intimate scene as they wake beforehand. While Marcus goes to buy liquor, Alex does a pregnancy test and finds it is positive. The final scene shows Alex in a park, surrounded by children, reading a book about predestination. Ideas of predestination and irreversibility run through the film.
The meaning of "objectionable":
Section 3(1) of the FVPC Act sets out the meaning of the word "objectionable". The section states that a publication is objectionable if it:
describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good.
The Court of Appeal's interpretation of the words "matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence" in s3(1), as set out in Living Word Distributors v Human Rights Action Group (Wellington), must also be taken into account in the classification of any publication:
 The words "matters
such as" in context are both expanding and limiting. They
expand the qualifying content beyond a bare focus on one of
the five categories specified. But the expression "such as"
is narrower than "includes", which was the term used in
defining "indecent" in the repealed Indecent Publications
Act 1963. Given the similarity of the content description
in the successive statutes, "such as" was a deliberate
departure from the unrestricting "includes".
 The words used in s3 limit the qualifying publications to those that can fairly be described as dealing with matters of the kinds listed. In that regard, too, the collocation of words "sex, horror, crime, cruelty or violence", as the matters dealt with, tends to point to activity rather than to the expression of opinion or attitude.
 That, in our view, is the scope of the subject matter gateway.
The content of the publication must bring it within the "subject matter gateway". In classifying the publication therefore, the main question is whether or not it deals with the following matters in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good:
Matters of sex
Almost every scene has sexual elements. There are two main scenes with strong sexual depictions: the first of these takes place inside a gay sadomasochistic sex club, the Rectum. The scene includes male nudity with glimpses of erect penises, brief images of masturbation and other half-seen sexual acts, and dialogue such as a man repeatedly inviting Marcus to "fist" him. Other sounds include moans of pain/pleasure and an effect that suggests a whip being used. The scene is filmed with a constantly moving camera in dark, red-lit rooms and corridors, and at one point the viewer has the impression of a dungeon with chains. In spite of the fact that a great deal is suggested but little is clearly seen, the overall effect is strongly sexual. A later episode shows Alex with Marcus in a tender, intimate scene where they wake together and engage in sexual play that does not proceed to intercourse. Both actors are nude and male genitals are occasionally visible but their playful actions have a natural air. There are other brief glimpses of genitalia when a prostitute reveals that s/he is a transsexual, and when the rapist withdraws. Neither incident is sexualised: images of violence dominate these scenes.
Matters of cruelty and violence, and sexual violence
The film contains two examples of extreme violence, a rape and a murder, depicted in a graphic manner. There are several other serious incidents, including physical assaults that take place prior to the murder and the rape. Marcus's frenzied search for the rapist involves numerous instances of violence, including his abusive man-handling of a taxi-driver, his harassment of a prostitute - he holds a knife to her throat - and his smashing of a car windscreen. All of these events contribute to the atmosphere of constant violence or threatened violence that permeates the first half of the film. The violence in the film is considered further under ss 3(2)(f) and 3(3)(a)(i), below. Sexual violence is discussed under ss3(2)(b) and 3(3)(a)(ii).
Matters of crime
The criminal acts of rape and murder are the key events of the storyline. The film's depiction of these acts is discussed under ss3(2)(b) and 3(2)(f), and ss3(3)(a)(i) and s3(3)(a)(ii), below. Discussion of whether the publication promotes or encourages these criminal acts (s3(3)(d)) is subsumed under these headings.
The feature contains several depictions of drug use. A figure that viewers will later recognise as the rapist is shown using a substance that may be amyl nitrate at The Rectum. The attacker pauses to sniff at a substance as he rapes Alex. In both of these instances drugs are presumably used to increase sexual response. Drug use features at a party where Marcus is seen "snorting" cocaine. This incident is shown as laddish, irresponsible behaviour. The issue of whether these depictions promote or encourage the use of illegal drugs is discussed under s3(3)(d), below.
Certain publications are "deemed to be objectionable":
Under s3(2) of the FVPC Act, a publication is deemed to be objectionable if it promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, certain activities listed in that subsection.
In Moonen v Film and Literature Board of Review (Moonen I), the Court of Appeal stated that the words "promotes or supports" must be given "such available meaning as impinges as little as possible on the freedom of expression" in order to be consistent with the Bill of Rights. The Court then set out how a publication may come within a definition of "promotes or supports" in s3(2) that impinges as little as possible on the freedom of expression:
Description and depiction … of a prohibited activity do not of themselves necessarily amount to promotion of or support for that activity. There must be something about the way the prohibited activity is described, depicted or otherwise dealt with, which can fairly be said to have the effect of promoting or supporting that activity.
Mere depiction or description of any of the s3(2) matters will generally not be enough to deem a publication to be objectionable under s3(2). When used in conjunction with an activity, the Classification Office defines "promote” to mean the advancement or encouragement of that activity. The Classification Office interprets the word "support" to mean the upholding and strengthening of something so that it is more likely to endure. A publication must therefore advance, encourage, uphold or strengthen, rather than merely depict, describe or deal with, one of the matters listed in s3(2) for it to be deemed to be objectionable under that provision.
The Classification Office has considered all the matters in s3(2). The matters which it considers relevant to Irreversible are:
s3(2)(b) The use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct.
The publication does not promote or support, or tend to promote or support, the use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct.
The anal rape of the character Alex is shown as an horrific, brutalising act. The rape takes place as Alex is passing through a pedestrian subway tunnel. She sees a man assault a woman and pauses at the sight of sudden violence. The attacker's attention is caught and he turns and seizes Alex, exclaiming "You're dead, bitch". She screams, cries and pleads with him to let her go but he holds a knife to her throat and taunts and fondles her. He forces her to her knees and straddles her body, fumbling at her clothing with one hand and holding the other over her mouth. As he rapes Alex the man threatens and taunts her continually, in a kind of obscenely misogynistic running commentary that includes, "Spread your legs, bitch", "Take this in your ass, cunt" and "You shit on me and you're dead". Alex emits sounds of extreme distress and constantly tries to push his hand away. When the act is over the rapist rolls off, apparently satiated, leaving Alex retching and in pain.
The rape is followed by a vicious beating when the rapist becomes aware that Alex is creeping away. He stands over her and kicks her face, then kneels over her, punching her face and smashing her head against the ground, all the while issuing a constant stream of abuse.
The whole scene is shown in real time as apparently unedited footage. During the nine minutes of the depiction of rape, the camera remains steady a few feet from Alex's face.
At issue under s3(2)(b) is the question of whether the film depicts sexual violence in a manner that provides encouragement for further such acts. In 2003 the Classification Office consulted widely on this and other matters discussed later in the decision. The Office showed the publication to, and sought the opinions of, a Rape Crisis group, a consultant clinical psychologist, and a media commentator. The Office also consulted a 26-member focus group recruited by an independent agency to be roughly representative of the New Zealand population in terms of gender, ethnicity, family status and age. Classification of the film in other jurisdictions was noted and an extensive range of reviews and critical writing was scrutinised. The concerns of the Office and those consulted centred on the eroticisation of a violent act and the potential for sexual arousal in the rape scene.
The association of sexual pleasure with violence would increase the likelihood that some male viewers might identify with the rapist. Concerns were raised that Alex's sexualised appearance and elements such as the rapist's fondling of her body might support an interpretation of joint pleasure between rapist and victim. But such a reading is only possible if viewers ignore the way Alex screams and fights and then tries to escape: she says "No" in every possible way. A further concern expressed is that showing the rape in real time offers the maximum opportunity for misogynistic pleasure, and if viewers identify with the rapist they may focus on his self-absorbed pursuit of his own gratification. Nevertheless, the decision pointed out that it can equally be argued that the length of the scene and the unflinching camera stance clearly highlight the victim's suffering rather than the rapist's enjoyment.
Other factors were identified that act against an interpretation of the rape as erotic. They include the structure of the film, which shows the consequences before the attack and brings the audience to the rape fully aware that they are about to witness an horrific and catastrophic event. In addition, the scene lacks explicit sexual images and is not titillating or salacious. Rather, rape is presented as an act of violence and the length of the scene drives home the atrocity of the act. The Office's decision acknowledged the likelihood of ambiguities in audience reactions, but concluded that the scene would force many viewers to question the nature of rape, of gender relationships, of sexuality and ultimately, of their own responses.
Respected critic Roger Ebert wrote, in March 2003: "The fact is, the reverse chronology makes "Irreversible" a film that structurally argues against rape and violence, while ordinary chronology would lead us down a seductive narrative path toward a shocking, exploitative payoff. By placing the ugliness at the beginning, [director] Gaspar Noe forces us to think seriously about the sexual violence involved. The movie does not end with rape as its climax and send us out of the theater as if something had been communicated. It starts with it, and asks us to sit there for another hour and process our thoughts. It is therefore moral - at a structural level."
The Classification Office considers that it has no reason to alter its previous finding that the publication does not encourage similar acts. Audiences at the time of the earlier, limited showings of the film certainly found the rape scene difficult to watch. However, evidence from the Office's consultations and from reports that appeared at the time of the film festival screening indicates that the majority of viewers reacted to the scene in a serious and thoughtful manner.
s3(2)(f) Acts of torture or the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty.
The publication does not promote or support, or tend to promote or support, acts of torture or the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty.
The revenge murder committed in an early scene is shown as an horrific act of extreme violence. It consists of a depiction of more than twenty blows with a fire-extinguisher, an attack of steady ferocity that continues long after the victim is clearly dead. Although the scene is darkly lit (in blood red) the audience sees the man's face and head beaten to a misshapen pulp.
The question that arises from the nature of the murder is whether the film portrays this act of revenge as justified by the sexual violation that viewers later witness. In 2003, commentators and those consulted were divided on the issue. The scene occurs early in the film and to most viewers at that stage the carnage is incomprehensible. However, particular concerns expressed included the seeming approval of the murder shown in the faces and comments of onlookers, and the fact that some of the observers are masturbating, which might give viewers a message that acts such as the murder are sexually stimulating. The Office, having considered the views of all the people consulted, found it unlikely that audiences would interpret the material in this way. In spite of the aspects described, the killing of the wrong man – by the wrong man – is more readily interpreted as a statement about the pointlessness of revenge and about the ease with which the mildest of men can be provoked to commit extraordinary violence. The scene plunges the audience into an exaggerated, nightmare vision of hell, to which the reactions of the onlookers add another dimension.
In 2003, the response of audiences was to recoil from the horror of the scene. The Classification Office finds no evidence that viewers would rejoice in justified violence.
Matters to be given particular weight:
Section 3(3) of the FVPC Act deals with the matters which the Classification Office must give particular weight to in determining whether or not any publication (other than a publication to which subsection (2) of this section applies) is objectionable or should be given a classification other than objectionable.
The Classification Office has considered all the matters in s3(3). The matters that it considers relevant to Irreversible are ss3(3)(a)(i), 3(3)(a)(ii), 3(3)(d) and 3(3)(e), as follows:
The extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the
publication describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with acts
of torture, the infliction of serious physical harm, or acts
of significant cruelty;
s3(3)(a)(ii) The extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with sexual violence or sexual coercion, or violence or coercion in association with sexual conduct.
In its previous decision, the Classification Office concluded that the publication does not promote or support, or tend to promote or support, the use of violence to compel a person to submit to sexual conduct, or acts of extreme violence. However, the extent, degree and manner of the presentation of the infliction of serious physical harm, cruelty, sexual violence and violence in association with sexual conduct required further consideration in terms of how the film might cause injury to the public good.
Among concerns raised by those consulted is the way the film's depiction of rape perpetuates the idea that it is unwise for women dressed in a sexually attractive way to walk alone at night. It also focuses on "stranger danger", in spite of the fact that most rapists are known to their victims. The effect was seen to be repressive: for women it may result in heightened fears about personal safety.
The film depicts rape and murder as horrific acts of extreme violence and cruelty that virtually destroy the lives of its characters. The film's manner of presentation of these scenes is open to different interpretations. The Classification Office is aware that viewers who already have a propensity for extreme violence or misogyny might take pleasure in the death and suffering of the victims. However, for the vast majority of the audience the effect is likely to be shocking and disturbing. Viewers have found the rape scene, in particular, to be horribly difficult to watch.
In the 2003 decision the Classification Office pointed out that to disturb an audience is not necessarily to injure the public good. Several of the people consulted regarded the horrific nature of the rape scene as justified in order to dispel the myth that rape is something women enjoy. Members of the audience at the public consultation felt that reducing the scene would destroy its essence and perhaps make it more "palatable". These viewers accepted the high level of disturbing content as necessary for the film to convey its message. The rape scene, in particular, is designed to make an audience inured to media violence feel what it is to be raped. However, concerns were expressed that the film is exploitative. If Irreversible sets a new precedent on acceptable depictions of screen violence and other filmmakers follow its lead with ever more graphic depictions there is the potential danger that audiences will become desensitised to this level of violence. Against this, however, is the argument that Irreversible portrays such depictions so strongly precisely because current audiences are already desensitised. A greater injury to the public good would ensue if excisions were made to make the film more palatable, thereby desensitising its audience to the horror of rape.
These considerations remain relevant to the current deliberations of the Office.
s3(3)(d) The extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication promotes or encourages criminal acts or acts of terrorism.
The feature contains depictions of drug use that add authenticity to situations and characters. The previous decision noted that the portrayal may add to the perception that the use of cocaine is "normal" for young urbanites, but that the use of this drug is associated with behaviour that is shown as stupid and irresponsible. Other instances are shown in an entirely negative fashion. In 2003, the Classification Office found that the publication did not promote and was unlikely to encourage criminal acts involving the use of illegal drugs. No evidence has been adduced that would indicate a need to alter this conclusion.
s3(3)(e) The extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication represents (whether directly or by implication) that members of any particular class of the public are inherently inferior to other members of the public by reason of any characteristic of members of that class, being a characteristic that is a prohibited ground of discrimination specified in section 21(1) of the Human Rights Act 1993.
The 2003 decision found that the film represented women, homosexual men, and, to a lesser extent, the Chinese as an ethnic group, as inferior.
The depictions of rape, the violence that follows the rape, and the derogatory references to women at various points in the film are a record of incredibly degrading misogyny, even misanthropy. There is extensive use of homophobic insults couched in explicit language and of epithets such as "Faggot". The dialogue in question includes insults that link homosexuality with AIDS. The film presents homosexuality as deviant and associates homosexuals with violent acts such as the anal rape of Alex by a homosexual pimp. Degrading and violently aggressive language is directed against a Chinese taxi-driver. While the dialogue is understandable as language uttered in the heat of the moment it nevertheless expresses innate attitudes of racial superiority. The degrading harassment of a Spanish transsexual prostitute appears to be similarly motivated.
The degrading and misogynistic treatment of women, while given some reason and context by the storyline, remains a concern, as does the wholly negative stereotype of homosexuals that emerges from the film.
Additional matters to be considered:
Under 3(4) of the FVPC Act, the Classification Office must also consider the additional matters that follow below. The statements made under s3(4) in the previous decision remain relevant and are largely reproduced under the relevant headings.
s3(4)(a) The dominant effect of the publication as a whole.
The film is emotionally intense and gruelling to the point of physical discomfort, and is likely to shock and repulse most viewers. These effects reach their strongest level during the horrific rape scene. The filmmaker wants the audience to feel rather than merely know what rape is like, and the effect is harrowing. The remaining scenes allow the viewer to come to terms with what they have seen and serve to underscore the central tragedy. Importantly, the almost anonymous rape victim has been humanised by the end of the film.
s3(4)(b) The impact of the medium in which the publication is presented.
The film is intended for cinema screening. The impact of all of the material, but particularly the scenes depicting extreme violence and sexual violence, is likely to be high. In this format, viewers have no control over the manner in which the film is presented.
Particularly relevant to Irreversible are the facilities offered by the video or DVD media formats. Both of these formats give viewers significant control over the manner and circumstances of viewing. Both video and DVD allow viewers easy access to particular scenes of a publication and the ability to pause, replay and copy sections at will. Compatibility with other electronic media, particularly in the case of the DVD format, adds to the potential for manipulation.
Access by people under 18 years of age or inadvertent exposure to the material in the private viewing situation is a possibility inherent in the use of video and DVD media, whereas cinema screening allows control over access. This consideration is not only relevant to a restriction based on age. In the case of Irreversible potential viewers need to make an informed choice to view the film.
s3(4)(c) The character of the publication, including any merit, value or importance it has in relation to literary, artistic, social, cultural, educational, scientific or other matters.
The film is a controversial work by a French director. Gaspar Noë's previous films have been similarly bleak and violent. They have received considerable critical attention. Irreversible's two main actors are among the most popular in contemporary French cinema. This film is notable for its improvisational method. The actors were given no script and great creative freedom. The film has considerable artistic merit, although critics differ on whether this is confined to technical brilliance. It is likely to have considerable appeal to filmmakers and students of film, because of its structural innovation and technical achievements. More arguably, the film also has some cultural merit and importance. Its contribution to discourses on male violence and sexuality is discussed elsewhere in this decision.
The film won the Bronze Horse award for best film 2002 at the 13th Stockholm International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.
s3(4)(d) The persons, classes of persons, or age groups of the persons to whom the publication is intended or is likely to be made available.
The film has been produced for an adult audience.
s3(4)(e) The purpose for which the publication is intended to be used.
Broadly speaking, the film is intended as entertainment. However, the film is also designed to provoke a response and to add to a discourse.
s3(4)(f) Any other relevant circumstances relating to the intended or likely use of the publication.
Publicity surrounding the classification of the film is likely to increase its potential audience.
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:
Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBR Act) states that everyone has "the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form". Under s5 of the NZBR Act, this freedom is subject "only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". Section 6 of the NZBR Act states that "Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning".
The right to freedom of expression set out in s14 of the NZBR Act has been weighed against considerations under s3 of the FVPC Act and the likelihood of injury to the public good has been identified. The Classification Office is aware that the proposed classification interferes with the rights of New Zealanders to access material of their choice. However, the classification represents the minimum interference with the freedom of expression consistent with preventing likely injury to the public good. For the reasons set out above, the proposed classification is demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.
The Classification Office examined Irreversible in 2003 and found that it was not objectionable in terms of the criteria of the FVPC Act if restrictions on its availability were imposed. At that time the publication was made available to adults and was further restricted for the purpose of study in a tertiary institution, or for the purpose of exhibition as part of the 2003 Beck's Incredible Film Festival or a film festival organised by an incorporated film society. The film's distributor now seeks general theatrical release to adult audiences for the film.
Irreversible contains scenes of extreme violence and sexual violence, explicit sexual images and dialogue, and other problematic elements such as portrayals of drug use and offensively racist, misogynistic and homophobic representations. Two scenes are of particular concern for their lengthy and graphic depictions of murder and rape. In its 2003 decision, with the assistance of expert opinion and public consultation, the Classification Office considered the effects of these depictions at length. The concerns identified and discussed at that time remain valid: they include the possibility of emulation, the disturbing nature of the images, their potential to increase women's fears about personal safety, and the possibility that the film's high level of extreme violence might further desensitise an audience already inured to media violence.
The Classification Office has again considered excisions to these key scenes and finds that the reasons for leaving them intact are still compelling: to reduce their length would diminish the impact of scenes that confront audiences with the horrific nature of rape and the sickening brutality of murder. Excisions to make the scenes palatable would destroy these messages, and would risk altering the integrity of the film-maker’s vision. Audiences are likely to find the material shocking and disturbing. However, the film is also likely to provoke a thoughtful response to the issues it presents. A clear majority of the public, professional and critical reactions to the film that the Office canvassed in 2003 were based on serious consideration of the film's treatment of gender relations and violence. The film, therefore, contributes to this wider discourse and to critical film debate on screen representations of violence and sexual violence.
Although excisions are not required, it is necessary to impose restrictions on the film's availability to minimise the likelihood of injury to the public good. The likelihood of harm arising from young people viewing the film is clear and obvious, and is dealt with by restricting the film to adult viewers, for whom it is plainly intended. However, in its previous decision the Office also identified a likelihood of injury to the public good arising from the publication's availability to adult viewers. The film was regarded as particularly likely to disturb adults if it was viewed without foreknowledge of the strength of the material. The decision also spoke of a clear likelihood of injury to the public good if people who had been subjected to any form of sexual abuse were re-traumatised by the film's depictions of violence and sexual violence. The Office concluded that prospective viewers need to be sufficiently informed to be able to choose for themselves whether or not to view the material.
In view of the strength of the material and the potential for harm arising from inadvertent exposure or uninformed viewing, the Classification Office took a cautious approach to the question of availability in its previous decision. The Office considered that restricting the film to film festivals and tertiary study increased the likelihood that adults would view the film in an informative context.
Reaction from the limited viewing of the film that followed our decision has confirmed that, while Irreversible may shock and disturb audiences, it tends to provoke reflection and discussion. No evidence of injury to the public good arising from harm to adult viewers has come to the Office's attention. Observing world trends, the film has received commercial theatrical release in France (598,812 admissions), Italy (161 screens), Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain (29,044 admissions), Turkey, Portugal, Poland, United Kingdom, Japan, USA (35 screens), Hungary, Argentina (10 screens, 41,263 admissions), Peru, Norway, Israel, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Mexico City, and Australia.
The film has gone on to commercial release in Germany, Spain, Japan, Sweden, USA, Argentina, and Australia following an initially limited release at film festivals in those countries. The Australian Classification Review Board confirmed Irreversible’s R18+ classification on 30 June 2004. This pattern of release, of general theatrical exhibition following an initially limited exposure in film festivals, appeals because of its cautious and gradual approach to balancing the freedom of expression with the need to minimise the risk of injury to the public good that the film’s availability may cause.
The Classification Office is mindful of the need to preserve the widest possible availability of the film. The NZBR Act requires that the classification of a publication should represent the minimum interference with the freedom of expression consistent with preventing likely injury to the public good. The film has had widespread theatrical release in other jurisdictions. Evidence of harm is lacking; there are indications that the majority of viewers will respond to Irreversible in a serious and thoughtful manner. Taking the above factors into account, the Office now agrees to the further step of allowing Irreversible to be released for theatrical screening.
The widening of Irreversible’s availability does not, however, apply to DVD and video versions of the film offered for supply to the public. Restriction to theatres where access is controlled prevents the possibility inherent in video and DVD formats of access by persons under the age of 18 years and of inadvertent exposure to the material in the private viewing situation. Restricting the exhibition of the film to public forums also prevents editing and reproduction. In this regard, the Classification Office follows the decision of the Film and Literature Board of Review’s classification of Baise-Moi registered on 14 February 2003.
The 35mm film Irreversible is classified as:
Objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years and for the purposes of theatrical exhibition or study in tertiary institutions only.
The descriptive note to be attached reflects the Office's concern that audiences are given a clear indicator of the strength of the film's content. The note accompanying the classification should read:
Brutal sexual violence, graphic violence and sex scene.
Strong recommendations to exhibitors:
The Office strongly recommends that the exhibitors provide telephone numbers for Rape Crisis and sexual abuse services at the end of the film. It also strongly recommends that viewers are given written warning before entering the cinema about the film's sound and strobe lighting effects.
Where the Classification Office classifies any publication as a restricted publication, it is required under s27(1) of the FVPC Act to consider whether or not conditions in respect of the public display of the particular publication should be imposed.
In considering the issue of public display, the Classification Office must have regard to the matters set out in s27(2) of the FVPC Act, namely:
(a) The reasons for classifying the
publication as a restricted publication;
(b) The terms of the classification given the publication;
(c) The likelihood that the public display of the publication, if not subject to conditions, or as the case may be, any particular condition, would cause offence to reasonable members of the public.
Irreversible has been classified as a restricted publication, for cinematic and tertiary institutional release only and for adult viewers. The public display of the publication itself is unlikely to cause offence to reasonable members of the public. Display conditions on the publication are not required.