Enter the Void
Film review by: Witney Seibold
At first glace, Gaspar Noé‘s “Enter the Void” is just as provocative and as confrontational as his brutal “Irreversible;” it contains extreme violence, an on-screen abortion, a huge amount of nudity, an even larger amount of drug use, themes of incest, an extreme closeup of a human glans already deep inside a human vagina, on-screen hallucinations, extended abstract scenes of swirling colors and shapes, an aggressive, flickering aesthetic to make any epileptic begin seizing, and an odd, multi-person sex scene in which human genitals emit tendrils of snaky, holy light.
“Enter the Void” is also told entirely in the first person; we see every action through the literal eyeballs of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a drugged-out, aimless twentysomething, prowling the clubs of Tokyo. When Oscar blinks, the screen goes black for a split instant. When he covers his eyes with his hands, we see the blur of his hands obstructing the screen. When he smokes drugs, we see his elaborate colorful hallucinations. And then, about 15 minutes in, when Oscar is shot and killed, we observe the rest of the film through his dying disembodied consciousness floating above the heads of all the other characters, occasionally zooming in to get closer looks, occasionally even entering the heads of other characters and looking out through their eyes, but mostly just observing the aftermath of his death.
This sounds gimmicky, and sometimes feels like it, but Noé seems to have an immediate point on his mind, which diffuses a lot of the protracted trickery.
What’s more, despite being hyperactive and confrontational in its style, “Enter the Void” is infused with a laconic, somnambulistic tone that invites unfortunate comparison to some of the more ennui-infused European art pictures of old; not that “L’Avventura” or “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” are bad films (indeed, they are standouts of the cinematic form), but they are indeed often cited as being droopy, narcissistic and pretentious. “Enter the Void” aims high, and easily draws the viewer in with its hypnotic pounding and aesthetic revolution, but also features just a few too many scenes of atonal, attractive, drugged-up Byronic twentysomethings shallowly gabbing about the nature of death and the meaning of life. The dialogue in these scenes is just about as interesting as real-life college kids having dull, “meaningful” discussions on the function of the universe. I suppose in that regard, “Enter the Void” is refreshingly authentic.
Despite these complaints, though, “Enter the Void” is still one of those gorgeously and desperately immediate films of striking creativity, and glorious originality. Noé is a hugely creative director who, not content to merely tell a story or convey an emotion, wants to introduce something new, something moving, something gut-wrenching and beautiful, to the world of cinema. That his film will likely alienate and possibly even bore some of his audiences only proves his stance as a stalwart artist-cum-provocateur.
Oscar is living in Tokyo. He doesn’t know much, and can’t seem to make a living, but shares an apartment with his ditzy sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta, Who gives one of those slurry-slash-slutty performances usually reserved for a drunken Patricia Arquette). Oscar deals drugs, and associates with all manner of lowlifes, some of which are twitchy and nervous (Olly Alexander), and some of which wax poetic (Cyril Roy). Linda, to supplement their income, has taken a job as a stripper (and part-time bisexual floozy for fortysomething club owner Nobu Imai) in the unsubtly titled club, Sex Money Power.
After some vapid bantering, Oscar is ratted out to the cops in a club, and accidentally shot in a toilet. He dies on the floor. His soul drifts out of his body. He drifts over to Sex Money Power and sees his sister having sex with another man. Oscar enters the head of this man briefly.
Oscar then begins to have flashbacks, just like an earlier quotation from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. He sees his childhood, he has halcyon memories of suckling his mother. He remembers the birth of his sister, and the subsequently close relationship they formed. He remembers in graphic detail the traffic accident that killed his parents, and the horror of being trapped in the backseat with Linda, while his dead parents were bleeding up front. He remembers the pledge he and his sister took to never separate. He remembers his foster home. Eventually we make it back to the present day, and how Oscar and Linda came to live in Tokyo.
At this point, though, the film begins to enter an increasingly hallucinatory spiral of Buñuelian dream logic. Time beings to stretch, and large pieces of history seem to drop out. We drift irresistibly into closed spaces, and into hypnotic flashing lights. Eventually the real world beings to look more like a colored fantasy model that Oscar had visited earlier in the film. With its humming, shimmering sounds, and glowstick apocalypse aesthetic, this new world looks like a mellow version of “Speed Racer,” but from the weary, adult perspective of a dead soul.
It’s rare that we see new things done with the cinematic form, and Noé’s “Enter the Void” manages to give us something bracing, challenging, horrifying, sometimes insufferable, and occasionally beautiful. You may be lost, you may be a little bit annoyed, and the film will take stamina, but I assure you, you will never be bored or pandered to, and you’ll be glad to have absorbed this shocking thing.