With just a few features, Gaspar Noé has built a reputation for himself as a starkly frank and challenging director. In Enter the Void
, he has created a work that transcends cinema and becomes a piece of art. And like most pieces of art, it's not going to be enjoyed by everyone, or possibly by anyone. It belongs to the genre of films that explores the darkness of humanity without letting the viewers up for air. And with a Director's Cut length of 160 minutes, you're going to be breathless for a long goddamned time.
Even the opening credits are worth discussion. It shows the full cast/crew list, and most names come at slam-bang speed, lit up in bright neon colors and constantly changing designs. An untold amount of tedious editing went into it, and I think it's worth every second. These are the first shocking moments in a movie full of them, and also the initial hints that epileptics are in no way the intended audience. Noé often takes advantage of extended single takes, but they sit between a multitude of quick edits and kaleidoscopic color morphs that have left heads spinning.
Loving siblings Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Huerta) live a squalid nightlife in the dazzling brightness of Tokyo. Oscar is a psychedelic user who did small-time drug deals to raise the money to fly Linda to Japan, making acquaintances like the brooding Alex (Cyril Roy) and the vaginal Victor (Olly Alexander). Linda soon becomes a stripper, based on her skill set of getting naked and smiling at the same time. Awakened in the middle of a hallucinogen trip, Oscar makes his way to a doomed drug meet that ends in his death. This is only the surface-treading beginning; we barely know these people yet.
Before Oscar dies, Alex lets him borrow The Tibetan Book of the Dead
and explains the basic concepts, including post-death consciousness and eventual spiritual rebirth. Though Alex's intentions are to give Oscar a spiritual high as a substitute for actual drugs, Enter the Void
mashes the mystical with the illegal, and these combined themes guide the main character's progression. DMT (dimethyltryptamine) is Oscar's drug of choice, due to its extreme potency and ability to give the user a separation from reality. Though these characters and their fucked up and druggy lifestyles aren't overtly interesting, the understandable inclusion of DMT fits into Noé's themes and inspirations.
Though the storyline itself is admittedly slight, it's an intentional move. The focus here is on the direction and visual aspects. The film is shot entirely in fixed perspectives, changing between first-person, over-the-shoulder, and from-above points of view. This execution isn't flawless, but is one of the finest methods of character study I've ever sat through. We experience Enter the Void
through Oscar's eyes and ears, resulting in a one-of-a-kind cinematic undertaking that is both exhilarating and taxing to the mind and attention span.
After Oscar's death, Enter the Void
drops all shades of straightforward storytelling and follows the point of view of Oscar's disembodied consciousness, which is as odd as it sounds. There are no religious tinges or science-hugging standpoints; there is light, abyss, and the aftermath of murder. Then there's the strained childhood memories that Oscar makes viewers relive with him in sporadic fashion. Most of these memories are centered thematically and in staging, on his relationship with younger sister Linda as well as his mother, or actually his mother's breasts. Definite threads of Oedipal origin run their course, allowing for the last few minutes of the film to be interpreted as uncomfortably as one could imagine.
Yes, it does seem strange that thinly veiled incestuous behavior would serve as the coherent throughline for strong character development and emotional impact; more so when you consider how little dialogue Oscar actually speaks. You can never really know someone unless you get inside their heads, as this film presents. And as dark and ugly as Oscar's physical and mental processes are, poignancy still exists within his story. It's just the kind you have to experience through fingers covering your eyes.
Beyond all the drug usage and explicit sex scenes (because yes, penises abound), a simpler, more personal tale is being told. There are no bonds stronger than family, and the love that exists within that family. Especially the "breasts" parts of that family. You're never going to see this movie, even in an edited form, on any basic cable networks, so hit your favorite rental establishment, or catch it on Netflix
. Enter the Void
is definitely not meant for everyone, but those who do enjoy it seem to love it wholeheartedly, and those who hate it can't have their time back. So bite the bullet and hope you didn't take the brown acid.