Thursday, June 9, 2011


Gaspar Noé, 2009
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Masato Tanno

I am a firm believer than the best cinema provides us with a transformative experience -- it doesn't just entertain or pass the time. Gaspar Noé's latest,
Enter the Void, is such a film. Actually, it is less of a film than it is an experience. In the 150 minute running time (and that is the final cut -- at Cannes it was shown in an unfinished cut at 163 minutes) you will feel an incredibly wide spectrum of emotions: arousal, boredom, hatred, nausea, disorientation, anxiety, sadness and, finally, an incredible sense of relief.

Oscar, a young drug dealer in Tokyo, is trying to save up enough money to bring his sister, Linda, to Japan. Their parents were killed in a car crash when they were children and, though they made a pact to stay together, were separated in foster care. Their incredibly close bond passes the lines of most normal sibling relationships and when Oscar is killed during a drug bust he stays on, in a sense, to watch over his sister and her attempts to lead a normal life in his absence. Since moving to Japan she has taken a job as a stripper, began a relationship with her boss and, at least initially, brushed off the advances of Oscar's friend Alex. Her life dramatically changes after Oscar's death and the rest of the film is essentially her attempt to justify her own survival.

In a lot of ways,
Enter the Void is a more difficult film to watch than Noé's infamous sophomore effort Irreversible. Sure, there are not a lot of things worse than a graphic, close up nine minute rape scene, but the overall effect of Enter the Void is somehow far more of an emotional and physical endurance test than Irreversible could ever hope to be.

The film is shot in first person, which is disorienting and a little nauseating. We only see Oscar when he happens to look in the mirror or when his spirit finally leaves his body. The film also makes brave attempts to replicate dying and drug use, namely psychedelics. There are numerous sequences throughout the film of bright lights, swirling colors, and uncomfortable sound frequencies. The extensive shots of light and colors were particularly hard to endure, especially in a 150 run time, but they were also an essential part of the experience of the film. During minute 140 I've never hated a director as much as I hated Noé.

The plot is basically an inversion of 
Irreversible, and a reworking with a sibling relationship. Where the latter film deals with trauma and the characters' attempts to process it by enacting bloody and violent vengeance, Enter the Void deals with a different kind of trauma and Linda's complex attempts to process it --  grief, anger, attempted suicide, self destructiveness, and finally love. Noé has an interesting way of drawing attention to the relationship between sex, life, love and identity. Love, though not always successful, is a legitimate way for characters to deal with the meaninglessness of life. In magical moments, sex is an expression of that love, usually resulting in birth, which we see in the endings of both Irreversible and Enter the Void

The inclusion of mysticism and the
Tibetan Book of the Dead is interesting, if flawed as is Oscar's exploration of DMT. DMT, dimethyltryptamine, is a chemical found both in plants and humans and, though mostly scientifically unexplored, is thought to induce dreamlike states in the brain, as well as simulate near death experiences. Traditionally it has been used in shamanic rituals and is one of the main components of ayahuasca. Noé includes the use of psychedelics right alongside his exploration of memory and trauma and the roles they plan in our lives.

I only have two major complaints. First, the acting was average. Aside from Paz de la Huerta (Linda) the actors were mostly non-professionals who were frequently asked to improvise dialogue. As a result, it occasionally has a wooden, forced quality. Second, though I realize it is intentional, the Love Hotel sequence is absolutely mind-numbing. When I stood up to leave after almost three hours I felt like I was high. Also, the film's subtle way of equating sexual escapism with drug use left a bad taste in my mouth.

IFC has acquired the distribution rights, which I assume means a DVD should show up sometime this year. However, I strongly recommend AGAINST seeing this film for the first time on a TV. If there is any possible way to see it in a theater, do so. The true magic -- and agony -- of Enter the Void can really only be experienced in a theater setting.

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