Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé and Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cinematographer: Benoît Debie
Producer: Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, and Shin Yamaguchi
by Jon Cvack
There are a handful of disturbing movies that I’m fairly certain I’ll never watch again. Ken Park (2002), The Brown Bunny (2003), Gummo (1997), and Antichrist (2009) are some of the first that come to mind. They’re all made by good, or even great directors, but all cross that particular threshold of providing a cathartic experience and toward functioning as a nightmare. At the same time, I’m not against returning to Requiem for a Dream (2000), Kids (1995), Salò (1975), and I often revisit the Saw series during October. We all have thresholds (most are shocked when they hear I un-ironically enjoy the Saw series), but then many people I know have Requiem for a Dream as one of their favorite movies; a film I don’t find disturbing enough to forever ignore, but can’t imagine when I’d be in a mood to electively put it on. Enter the Void exists somewhere in the middle.
I had never seen any of Gaspar Noe’s work up to this point, nor did I know anything about Enter the Void. I knew it had something to do with psychedelics and by the time the opening credits of the cast and crew literally flash by, preventing even the fastest reader from seeing any name before tossing us into the story.
The opening scene is of the coolest and most original I’ve seen in awhile, taking the POV of the lead character, a drug dealer named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) who lives in a tiny high rise Tokyo apartment with half a kitchen and a gorgeous view over the downtown skyline. He’s joined on the balcony by who we later discover is his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) who says something about being like a plane flying across the sky, looking down at the city; an idea that Linda finds frightening. She then heads off to work at a strip club and Oscar lights up some DMT and we get our first trip out scene.
Still in a single take - broken up only by the screen blinking like an eyeball - he’s soon visited by his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) and the two decide to head over to The Void dance club in order for Oscar to make a delivery to his younger friend Victor (Olly Alexander). On the way over, Alex asks if Oscar has read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, explaining its view that once someone dies they simply float above the Earth, watching life take place for all eternity. An idea that Oscar finds terrifying.
With the single take still going, Oscar finds Victor crying, sits down, and the police come barging through, chasing him into a disgusting bathroom where Oscar attempts to flush the pills, soon shot by the police through the stomach and he dies in the stall. The single take ends and Oscar floats out of the body per the very method The Book of the Dead and ascends throughout the skies of Tokyo, drifting in and out of character’s lives and their histories.
What prevents the film from going into Antichrist territory is the narrative, which at its core is a fairly simple story about a kid who lost his parents at a young age, was later separated from his sister in foster care, and turned to both abusing and dealing drugs; determined to increasingly alter his mind and soon dying as a result; following everything up from his initial conception (as in sperm and seed) and up to his last dying breath.
On the other hand, for nearly three hours the movie takes a voyeuristic eye of god position which becomes stale quickly. Allegedly Gaspar Noe was inspired by tripping out while watching the first person film noir The Lady in the Lake (1947). The idea is simple enough, film is about having storytellers offer us objective images to look at; framed, composed, designed, and blocked to be as engaging as possible. First person POV is limiting, forcing us to only see what a character sees and preventing what is arguably the purpose of cinema - to have beautiful images arranged in such a way that allows the viewer to connect patterns. First person doesn’t allow for cutting; the viewer is instead forced to look at whatever they’re looking at and due to its perspective, it just cannot compete with a more omniscient perspective. It’s the reason why so few films have adopted it for the full running time.
This is of course combined with the plethora of disturbing images Gaspar forces upon us - of countless amounts of women and men having sex in full nude, often at dirty strip clubs and typically empty of any form of emotion beyond the raw experience; going so far as to show a penis entering from the inside of the vagain and ejaculating. Of horrible drug abuse that leaves people hurt, dying, or dead in a city that, while vibrant, does not at all care about its casualties. Or of the countless times Gaspar cuts to a graphic and horrifying car accident that leaves Oscar and Linda’s parents dead with their skulls bashed in and blood everywhere. Or of some suggestively incestuous relationship between Oscar and Victor which is taken up to the point of showing them sleeping with one another. Or of a desolate Victor giving oral to a pair of businessmen in an elevator, likely to make his next score. For two and a half hours after the intro, we are forced into this exhausting POV, made to watch vapid and terrible acts in a confining peeping Tom perspective.
I had divided the film into three parts and by the last night, I struggled to even put the film on; not at all interested in having my mood inevitably pulled down. Like Antichrist and its peers, there wasn’t all that much beyond the amazing intro that made me excited or made me excited to return to the story. There are ideas about fate and circumstance, and there’s an interesting exploration of a rippling effect that can take place through an event years past, and while they’re interesting, I’m not sure when I’d return, if ever. However, I’d also recommend it for any fellow cinephiles who want a unique and unforgettable experience.
The story seems to be that some are determined from the very moment of conception to live a life of tragedy. At its best I suppose the film makes you appreciate your circumstances by actually placing you inside of what it’d be like for someone to experience a tragic life. It’s the complete lack of hope that drags it all down. The movie itself functions as a trip - you are distracted by the bright colors and showy photography, until you then return to the real world, realizing how horrifying it all was.
BELOW: Five minutes of what I think is about a thirty minute opening scene
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