dir: Gaspar Noè
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What a crazy, fucked-up film.
Preparing yourself for a Gaspar Noè film is not something that is genuinely possible. Having seen others of his flicks, none of which I will ever see again, I was determined to not see this flick ever as well. Since I’m reviewing it, well, that means something changed in my thinking, and I’m glad, to an extent, that it happened. Not too proud to admit when I’m wrong.
A friend of a friend who works in the film industry told me she saw the flick at a festival, and that it was quite an amazing experience. Though I knew nothing about her before that day, her thoughts, conveyed to me over a long and boozy conversation on a Saturday afternoon at a local pub, regarding flicks in general (that she’d worked on in New Zealand, being those flicks involving children wandering into a Witch-filled wardrobe and a Jesus-substitute lion called Aslan) and this flick itself intrigued me. They intrigued me to the point where my absolute determination to never again be violated by a Gaspar Noè flick wavered, and over time led to a confident ‘maybe?’
And in the end I caved. I’m not entirely happy with the experience, because, as I should have expected, there are certain sights and sounds in this amazing flick that I wish I’d never seen and experienced, and which alcohol will now have to delete for me (in its usual sporadic and haphazard manner). But overall I think, I hope, the experience was a compelling and affecting one, and thus worthwhile.
Make no mistake: it is a stunning, tedious, amazing, excruciating film. The sounds and visuals are calculated and amped up deliberately to arouse and bludgeon the senses of the viewer. Even the opening credits transport the viewer to a bad place even after only four or so minutes of strobing neon staccato and mania.
And then the drug-addled flick begins. We see everything, almost everything, from the perspective of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), and what isn’t from his perspective directly, is with the camera filming him from behind (in third person perspective, so to speak) , so that he is always either viewing things directly or seeing himself. He is a drug-using drug dealer in Tokyo, who spends the first half hour of this long-arsed flick out of his mind on drugs. We see his very trippy hallucinations, and the droning thoughts in his empty head. He lives with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who cares so very much about him.
And then, in the carrying out of his drug dealer-y duties, he dies. The rest of the film mostly is either reminiscences of his life, replaying certain important or meaningful scenes, or Oscar’s disembodied consciousness observing all the people that he knew in Tokyo when he was still alive.
How does this happen, or what does it mean? Well, nothing, man, it doesn’t mean nothing. It’s called Enter the Void, after all. And what’s a Void other than oblivion and nothingness? In the first few minutes, Oscar talks about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Other characters talk about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. And then a different character asks Oscar whether he’s finished reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
I wonder if the Tibetan Book of the Dead has anything to do with the story.
This other character, who has the profound misfortune of looking like a scuzzier and even more unkempt version of me, only much thinner and dirtier, then summarises not only what the Tibetan Book of the Dead says, but what Oscar’s soul / disembodied consciousness is going to experience (and us by default) over the next two and a bit hours. This other mentor / fellow traveller, Alex (Cyril Roy) specifically says that when we die, our soul travels around visiting the people we know, passing through lights to other stages of consciousness, re-experiencing key moments in one’s life, before either passing through to nirvana, or, by becoming confused and lost, ending up reincarnated in a new body.
And that’s exactly what happens. I don’t think you can spoil something as out there as this flick, which is an auditory and visual mindfuck from beginning to end, so there’s no real utility to spoiler warnings in this or any other instance. There’s no plot, there’s no real underlying meaning other than the obvious metaphysical implications of Oscar’s experience. The film doesn’t even need to tell us that this is what the makers think happens when we die: all they’re saying is representing something like this would be ‘cool’.
So it’s an experiment above all else. The thing with experiments is that sometimes they succeed even when they fail, since the results can go off into new directions that have nothing to do with the initial objectives or hypotheses. Gaspar Noè is on record as saying that 2001: A Space Odyssey is his favourite flick of all time, and that he was tremendously affected and influenced by that so-called ‘star gate’ sequence in the last part of the flick. It’s a fairly well-known, well parodied sequence where the main character, after silencing the “Daisy, Daisy” singing computer, goes through some kind of portal and endures a highly trippy effects laden experience which mostly seems to consist of his irises changing colour, and shiny archaic graphics whizzing past on either side, for eons until we see a foetus floating in space.
Noè’s taken that, and stretched it out further, further than anyone previously dared or possibly thought was wise, and added to it even more metaphysical elements, rendering it even ‘bigger’, so to speak, than Kubrick would have bothered with.
Does it work? Well, it’s hard for me to say. It is such a endurance test, such a gruelling experience, with plenty of scenes that just smack of wanting to aggrieve and brutalise the audience; to force the audience to feel something, whether it’s offence, revulsion or arousal. But I can’t ignore the technical qualities of making something so, so, so fascinating, and with no concession at all to (positive) audience sensibilities or marketability.
The vision of Tokyo is like nothing else I’ve ever seen in any film, Japanese or otherwise, but it’s not pretending to be a real vision of Tokyo. It’s a day-glo hyperreal nightmare cityscape where everything is rendered in neon pitched so extremely at the ends of the colour spectrum that you know that human eyes can’t see reality in this way or risk burning out permanently.
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The transitions between reality states, or levels of consciousness, were terrifying, to me, and each one set my teeth on edge but also kept me on the edge of awe. Noè and his crew have long experimented with using sound and visual effects to impact on the viewer’s experience almost independently of the sometimes horrific imagery they like to serve up, and this is the first time where he’s gotten it right, I think.
Just when, hours into the film, which feels like it goes on forever, and probably could have, I thought I didn’t care about the characters, the story transitions into a re-living of Oscar’s life, where the key moments of his and Linda’s experiences are shown giving them some depth and giving their relationship some pathos. Orphaned at a young age, we come to understand why they are so important to each other.
Of course, this being a goddamn Gaspar Noè flick, he’s compelled to go further, and make their relationship borderline incestuous, and to include so many instances of Freudian imagery and implications, and scenes of Oscar spying on his parents getting it on, and transitioning in scenes where he’s having sex with someone, or observing Linda having sex with her awful Japanese boyfriend Bruno, and temporarily embodying Bruno so he can see what it’s like, into seeing himself banging his own mother.
Yes, just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, and can enjoy/endure anything that a cinema can throw at you, a fucker like this forces you to watch someone banging their own mother or watching their sister have an abortion.
The abortion isn’t even the worst of it. There are horrifying scenes of blood covered children screaming as the mashed corpses of their parents drip in the front seats of a crashed car. There are sex scenes in the flick which are anything but erotic, and I’m pretty sure there’s a scene where a young stupid guy is blowing a sarariman, while another guy looks on and unbuckles. There’s even a CGI scene of sex from the inside, let’s say, of a woman’s vagina/cervix, and the natural result of the sex act. And there’s dozens of other instances calculated not just to horrify or be seen as cheesy, but which are definitely meant to affect the viewer’s feelings regarding reality, metaphysics, and that whole messy life and death stuff.
This is not a flick I can recommend to anyone. It’s too long and too extreme in everything that it does, and it’s so goddamn trippy that you’d think it was made exclusively for stoners and the kinds of people that go to ‘cult’ late night sessions at their local arthouse where they can still watch Rocky Horror or The Room or Human Centipede or other crap that’s meant to be crap and ironic, or at least taken as such by despicable hipster audiences.
Enter the Void is far too well made, and far too extreme and expansive to fall into that or any other category. There’s nothing camp or ‘fun’ about any of it. Too much work has been put in to making this the most singular flick that it can be, with no obvious pigeonhole or genre that it can be lumped into, embracing and discarding thousands of ideas in the nebulous service of no plot, but of an amazing experience, all the same.
There are inspirations and such arising from other flicks (like the obvious 2001 and Hitchcock’s Lady in the Lake), but it’s pretty certain that you’ve never watched anything like this and probably won’t want to for a long time afterwards.
Is it a good film? I have no idea, but it was an amazing experience, one that went on past the point of human endurance, beyond the point of being bearable, and back around again; one that left me feeling bamboozled and exhausted, and relieved. It’s certainly an evil, brilliant, terrible flick, and I hope I don’t see its like for at least a few years.
8 times drug use and Tibetan Buddhism have never looked this warped out of 10
“Do you remember that pact we made? We promised to never leave each other.” – Enter the Void