Enter the Void

As thematically bold as it is visually mesmerising.

This is a repost of our September 9th review.

Gaspar Noé is not a director to be taken lightly. Having thundered onto the scene with the 1998 shocker I Stand Alone and followed up with 2002’s even more disturbing Irreversible, Noé’s first two films have aggressively examined the uglier side of humanity, unabashedly bringing contentious subjects such as incest and rape to the forefront. His third film, Enter the Void, though a touch more optimistic – and I mean just a touch – is an assured apotheosis of the filmmaker’s work up to this point, blending his signature dream-like visuals with a haunting narrative that lingers long after the lights go up.

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a 20 year-old American living in Tokyo, getting by as a drug dealer with his buddy Alex (Cyril Roy). Oscar has finally amassed enough cash to bring his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), over to Tokyo with him, though in order to make ends meet, she has taken up a job as a prostitute. One night, as a drugged-up Oscar goes to meet a client in a nightclub, he is cornered by the police and shot. As he lays dying, he experiences one final mother of a drug trip, traipsing haphazardly through his most intense memories and feelings. In reality, his journey into the void may last all of ten seconds, yet when unspooled raw, it comprises the delirious remainer of the film’s 142-minute runtime.

From the opening strobe credits sequence, which breezes through a cast and crew list faster than you can possibly view them, this is familiar Noé territory, utterly unrepentent in its excesses and uneager to deign to the viewer’s comfort zone. Only in its narrativity is the film in any way familar; as we observe a mind-bending first-person drug trip sequence through Oscar’s eyes, we, rather than being forced to draw our own conclusions, are dealt the gratitude of a voice-over projection of Oscar’s thoughts. In a film replete with curiosities, not even Noe – whose last effort featured that 9-minute rape scene – wants to alienate us too much. In its most triumphant manner, Enter the Void is a sumptuous visual exploration of one man’s dying thoughts. Like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Void is in no hurry to tell its story, yet delivers ground-breaking visuals amid a philosophical meditation on life and death. Indeed, Kubrick is the perfect comparison, for this is exactly the sort of drug-trip film that he would have made.

Oscar is shot early on in the film, and as we hear his dying thoughts and his slowing heartbeat, everything transforms into that nightmarish, unmistakable world Noé stamped into our psyches in his previous film. As Oscar’s soul floats above his body, the camera begins to wind, and an industrial drone cues in, placing us in a territory that is stylistically, thematically and spiritually a very complete successor to Irreversible. From here, Void continues as a travelogue of Tokyo’s seedier side, stopping to linger on the lives of those important to Oscar, such as his sister. The potency of this trip even allows him to enter the “minds” of anyone he wishes, most disconcertingly as he watches through the eyes of a man having sex with his sister.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, for Noé has drenched his simultaneously beautiful and ugly film in plenty of familial angst, and resultingly, some interesting Freudian readings. Constantly cutting back to brief flashes of Oscar as a child, bathing with his beautiful mother and Linda, and juxtaposing this with the traumatic car accident that curtailed his relationship with his parents, Noé is able to convey an astounding amount of information visually without having to actually say it. The accident robbed Oscar of a normal familial life, one which no doubt informs his current attachment to his sister, and just as the scars seem to mend, he has a hole blown through him.

As astounding as the film’s visual prowess is, how intimate an insight it allows us into Noé’s protagonist is equally staggering; we are in his drug-addled – and therefore suggestible and uninhibited – mind, allowing us to learn his secrets. Oscar’s sexual indiscretions make for an especially voyeuristic moment, all the more disquieting as a glimpse of the woman’s breasts immediately cuts to a shot of Oscar’s own mother breastfeeding him. Noé’s masterly suture of the two dispenses with perfunctory dialogue and instead invites fervent debate.

In stark contrast to the savagery of his other films, Enter the Void feels more emotionally whole. For starters, it has a rather drole sense of humour about itself and its characters, indulging in the same hedonism of his past films, yet as Irreversible was, by Noé’s admission, something of an experiment, this is the whole hog, in every possible way. Despite all the debauchery, it is unmistakably Noé’s most expressively heartfelt film yet; Oscar’s care for his sister is resonant and totally believable, never coming off as shoehorned or maudlin. Noé examines his character with an interesting objectivity; one shot of him and his sister passionately kissing, for example, isn’t lingered on, with no awkward pauses, nor any fishy dialogue. In interviews, Noé has protested that the relationship isn’t incestual, and on this basis we believe him, yet in a later scene when Oscar sniffs her panties, it is hardly subtext to suggest that their relationship is anything but conventional.

The reason to see it all, though, is Noé’s mind-boggling feat of direction; he passes through walls with a command of space not seen since David Fincher’s Fight Club. A fish eye lens is not employed as a mere flashy gimmick; it morphs perceptions in a way you have never seen, to convey the uncanny experience of an otherworldly last drug trip, even at one point zooming down into the light of a lamp. The complexity of the shots – of how Noe crams presumably large cameras into the most unassuming of spaces – is utterly staggering, and how he passes between environments so seamlessly – through several walls of a building and out the other side – is as though his camera is intangible.

Transfixed though you will be by the visuals, it is best to remember that at its heart, this is still a very graphic and gratuitous film, especially later on; a zoom in on an aborted foetus is probably overkill, but nothing more harrowing than Irreversible’s most horric moments, and nothing lingers as long – either on the screen or in the mind – in such abhorrent terms. Meanwhile, some brief snippets, though hynoptically replayed, do seem unnecessary pored over for a film already chopped down to 142 minutes from its original 161. Noe is, for better or worse, resolutely in no rush to get through things; a three-minute pass over Tokyo will infuriate as many as it amazes, clearly borrowing a sense of beautiful dystopia from the likes of Blade Runner. Similarly, the extended pass through a Tokyo sex hotel that closes things out is certainly a little self-serving, but it sets up for the film’s equivalent of 2001‘s Star Child scene, and resultingly one may as well call the film a sci-fi for as much as it ponders the nature of our being and what might lie beyond. It is certainly more confident and interesting in both its visual style and thematic base than the comparably messy Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, and should, in a just world, earn a similar cult status.

If you have ever wanted to see a CGI close-up shot of a man ejaculating from inside a woman’s vagina, before the camera passes into the ejaculatory deposit, focusing on one sperm as it penetrates an egg, this film might be for you. It is also a haunting and surprisingly affecting meditation on life and the great beyond, anchored by solid performances and, unsurprisingly, amazing direction from Noé. While it isn’t for everyone and will understandably be divisive, it is not easily dismissed either.

Enter the Void goes on limited UK cinema release on Friday, September 24th.

Thanks to Trinity Filmed Entertainment for organising a press screening prior to release.


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