Enter the Void

Enter the VoidFrance, 2009
Director: Gaspar Noe
Starring: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown
IMDB: 7.4

I'm going to cut straight to the chase. Enter the Void is a downright masterpiece, it simply pushes all the right buttons ... for me. I could say your mileage may vary, but I'll go a step further. Your mileage WILL vary, and I'll explain why shortly. Enter the Void is an edgy, experimental, visceral, mind-blowing experience that will more than polarise audiences, so uncompromising is director Gaspar Noe in his vision.

Anyone familiar with Noe's last film Irreversible will be aware he is not one to shy away from shocking the viewer - in fact its something that he strives for. It's safe to say he has not chosen to change his ways here! This is a truly adult movie ... and anyone with hangups about sex, drugs, or violence should stay well away. An open adult mind is a prerequisite.

The film wastes no time in establishing the impact it intends - right from the get-go the opening titles slam into the screen in rapid-fire succession accompanied by a suitably pounding soundtrack. These were impressive enough to be followed by excited applause at the festival premier I attended. The crowd were in high spirits, ready to laugh and interact with the movie in true festival tradition. But it wasn't long before everyone was deadly silent as they were gripped by the intensity of what was unfolding.

Enter the Void is based in Tokyo, and centers around siblings Oscar and Linda. After losing their parents at a very early age the two become extremely close, and Linda makes Oscar promise never to leave her. Nevertheless, they are fostered out to separate homes, and when we first meet Oscar he is living in Tokyo, desperately trying to raise the money to allow his sister to join him.

Being a bit of a drug fiend, its not long before he hits upon the obvious way to raise a bit of quick money - dealing drugs. In the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, in a country notoriously anti-drugs ... this is a dangerous proposition.

The first major scene of the movie involves Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) getting high on DMT. The sound, visuals and atmosphere of this scene are the most impressive translation of a hallucinogenic experience that I have ever seen in a movie. Noe has stated that his inspiration for the film's neon look came from his experimentation with the drug DMT / Ayahuasca - and for what its worth, he compares the effect to the movie Tron.

And its Noe's extraordinary success in representing this state of mind that will turn off many viewers. It's all a bit vague, blurry, and disorienting ... the film fully immerses you in the trip, and is in no great hurry to bring you back down again.

The viewer is taken on a wonderfully psychedelic joyride both inside and outside of Oscar's mind, and into and out of The Void. The visuals are spectacular, thanks in part to the design input of Marc Caro (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children), and the camera takes an almost first person perspective being firmly located just behind Oscar's head for most of the film's run time.

The plot makes use of concepts from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a text that describes the state of consciousness after death, and explicitly compares the experience to the effects of the drug DMT (a well-known effect of the drug). To say more will require entering spoiler territory, suffice to say that this metaphysical idea is fully explored as a major concept of the movie.

Once Linda (Paz de la Huerta) arrives in Tokyo, she soon discovers the easiest way for an attractive young foreign woman to earn a living in a city where western women are very popular. The neon visuals of the strip bar she works in segue seamlessly into the previously mentioned psychedelic motif, and the leggy lead actress throws all modesty to the wind in an extremely brave performance.

Which brings us to the sex. There is quite a lot of it, and its reasonably explicit. Explicit enough to warrant a hefty adult rating anyway. Especially when Noe's swooping camera travels room to room through a love hotel, an idea that would have been utterly exploitational and voyeuristic were it not for the integral plot detail that it served.

As mentioned earlier, Noe is no stranger to hitting the viewer between the eyes with visceral and explosive violence. Some scenes had the impact, almost literally, of being hit in the face with a sledgehammer. This is an aspect of the movie that would surely be best experienced in a theater.

Noe takes his trademark floating camera aesthetic to new heights of excellence here, in combination with some remarkable CGI. This technique caused a lot of excitement when used in Irreversible, but here is used to much greater effect, especially as this time its not just a method but perhaps the best way to portray the story. Some scenes are absolutely breathtaking in scope, and while I was too busy enjoying the ride to bother with technical analysis, I am quite certain that some of these scenes were actually impossible. No doubt the eventual DVD will explain how it was done, and would be fascinating in itself.

The sound of the movie likewise fits the surreal and psychedelic tone, but more in the way David Lynch will use sounds to engender an emotional response without the explicit use of songs per se.

I've not wanted to give too much away in this review, but I hope it comes across just what an ambitious film this is. Noe takes the viewer on a roller-coaster experience in more ways than one, and here 'experience' is the key word. The only criticism I could make of the movie is that at times it is slow and occasionally repetitive. But in this regard it is worthwhile to note that one of Noe's biggest influences for this movie was Kubrick's 2001. Another movie with lengthy non-verbal sequences. It seems quite experimental in nature - you need to let it wash over you, immerse yourself in the alternate realities it presents.

To quote Hunter S. Thompson ... "Buy the ticket, take the ride" and catch it on the big screen if at all possible.

34% of viewers on IMDB rate Enter The Void a 10/10 ... I'm one of them.

Postscript: To learn more about Noe's influences for the film, I highly recommend checking out the documentaries DMT: The Spirit Molecule, and Tibetan Book of the Dead narrated by Leonard Cohen.

Get another opinion

@ Axe Wound. A great review with more details of the plot.
@ The Playlist. For the opposing viewpoint (beware, spoilers)


Phantom of Pulp said...

To be honest, I enjoyed your appraisal of the film more than the film itself.

It didn't do it for me at all.

Thanks for allowing me to see it with your eyes.


Hey Phantom, shame it wasn't your kind of flick, but I guess this is always going to be a love it or hate it kind of film. Out of interest, did you see it in the theatre or at home?

Aylmer said...

I'm just about to see this and I can't wait. I'm holding off on reading too much about it til after I see it. I'll stop back in and let you know what I thought.

onionpalac said...

Did this play in theaters in Tokyo?
I was holding out to see it in the theater but caved in a finally saw it at home . . .


@Aylmer: Look forward to hearing your thoughts!

@Onion: Yes it played in Tokyo in May 2010, but I don't know how long for. Is that where you are? It seemed to have a short run wherever it played - in my city it only played once!

Anonymous said...

I caught it here in Austin. I don't know, I like the cinematagraphy but it wasn't violent enough for my taste. I prefer Noe's I Stand Alone and Irreversible.


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