“Look. Look again—look a hundred times. You must. You must understand the mechanisms. They are the same all over the world.” In voice-over, a male and a female voice engage in erudite dialogue about the violence that people have done, and continue to do to each other.
The violence in Irradiated is an uncompromising and ceaseless barrage of mass destruction, mutilation, and devastation—the appalling low points being the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The three screens multiply the imagery to create an enfeebling onslaught; an almost unbearable experience. The only let-up comes in the form of Japanese Butoh dancers who enact the pain and despair. Rithy Panh’s message is clear: to understand the various kinds of evil, you must subject yourself to them. It is your duty as a human being.
Despite it all, this darkest of confrontations culminates in the solace that follows pain: survival, memory, assimilation. There is space once again for gentleness, and from the ashes of destruction there grows new life.