If there was ever a two minute opening credit sequence that could grab me by the balls, it’s from Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. I’m confident it will have that effect on most people. You can see it here if you don’t believe me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s a strange beginning when considering the way it contrasts with the rest of the film. This hyper-frenetic, psychedelic introduction is the star of a film running around two and a half hours, and you’ll feel every minute of its run time.
Noé has made a career as provocateur. His last few films involve a level of violence, sex and depravity (and a mixture of all three) that anyone could argue is excessive and exploitive. The problem, however, is that Noé is so talented, it can’t altogether be dismissed. It reminds of Lars von Trier, and his latest film Antichrist. Enter The Void doesn’t represent a marked change in style for Noé. All the base elements are there: sex, drugs, incest, abortion. And it’s completely warranted to feel you’re owed an explanation as to why you should subject yourself to them. I don’t have an answer. But I can say that there are such dazzling flashes of genius sprinkled in throughout the film, that wading through the rest of the bog will be worth it for some. Even though you’ll come out of the experience probably feeling dirty, and empty.
Enter the Void is loosely based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a canon of scripture for Buddhists. It is an instructional manual filled with directives for those between this life, and their next reincarnation–what they should prepare to experience, and how they should react. Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is an American, living in Tokyo. Or at least a Noé-esque Tokyo full of drugs and bass-thumbing club music. He begins to deal some drugs and doing a lot of heavy psychedelics; the film opens on him smoking a bowl of DMT. Here, the screen evolves into rotation patterns, made up of bright colors, accompanied by resonant sounds. It’s very clearly an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s famous tunnel of colored light scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the film premiered at Cannes, it was seventeen minutes longer. Seventeen extra minutes of these sorts of effects.
Shot from Oscar’s point of view, we mainly get to see the back of his neck, only glancing at his face when he looks in a mirror. He gets gunned down by Tokyo police in a seedy club bathroon. As he’s trying to dispose of his stash, he yells that he has gun to prevent them from entering his stall. He dies. At this point, Oscar’s essence slowly separates from his body, and the remainder of the film, still in Oscar’s perspective, is seen from what is now nearly a third person, but wordless narrative. He floats about the city, through walls, no longer constrained by the limits of a physical body, but unable to communicate with the world that surrounds him.
He weaves in and out of his friends’ presences, and follows his sister, Linda, around (a ubiquitously nude Paz de la Heurta). Linda, a stripper at a club named Sex Power Money) and Oscar share a bond much too close for comfort since a horrific, shared experience in their youth involving the death of their parents. Noé subjects the audience to this experience over and over again on screen which results in a slightly jarred understanding of why Linda and Oscar’s relationship is so distorted. There are many scenes too unpleasant for any film. Particularly, an extremely realistic and graphic abortion, and an explicit sex scene made up of impossible, and impossibly candid shots.
Enter the Void could easily be classified as experimental as there’s not really much that happens on screen from a plot’s perspective. It’s a lot of floating-in-the-sky camera work, with little onscreen substance. On one hand, this leaves plenty of room for meditation on what death is, and how we can, or should relate to it. And it’s easy to take advantage of this opportunity. On the other hand, two hours of mediation isn’t always the desired product when heading to the movies.
Noé provides his shocks and provocations. There’s no shortage of them. But every now and then, all of the wildly unrestrained facets of the film converge and the cacophony of it all gets quite. Then there are, quite literally, revelatory moments that make Enter the Void exhaustively interesting, and completely unforgettable.
Enter The Void is authentically meditative and beautifully shot, making it an unforgettable film.