Enter the Void (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27Jan/111

Enter the Void (2010)

ANDREW LIKEI had a profound wave of uneasiness flush over me during the opening moments of Enter the Void that I never recovered from, and since I was watching a Gaspar Noe film I understood that was part of the point.  His latest fit of artistic endurance puts the concept of an afterlife to head and asks no questions of the results, save the one's we might bring ourselves.  For me it was wondering if there being an afterlife is really such a good thing.  For others it may be that the freedom from our squishy shells might be the peace that we all deserve.

Getting to these thoughts is a bit of an endurance test.  Ok, I'm being a bit mean and misleading by saying that it's a "bit" of an endurance test.  Gaspar Noe received a worldwide reputation as something of a provocateur with his 2002 film Irreversible which featured a brutal single shot nine minute rape scene that took place in the most hell soaked alleyway this side of Taxi Driver.  That the film went through with that scene is a testament to its ideas on vengeance.  But there was another world unexplored in that film that Noe uses as his backdrop for Enter the Void.

Enter the Void focuses on what are either the dying images or tentative steps into the afterlife of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young drug dealer living in Tokyo.  He rooms with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper who recently reconnected with her brother after an absence of several years.  Oscar is shot dead when he is cornered by the police in a bar and he makes the unwise move of telling them that he has a gun.  After watching himself die he begins to flow unencumbered throughout time and space, witnessing Linda's life after he has died and flashes of his childhood.

There are moments of peace, usually centered around Alex, but Oscar's soul is too restless to stay in one spot for long.

Getting to the point where his soul becomes unstuck from his body is a challenge.  Gaspar Noe issues an immediate challenge to keep our attention with a powerfully aggressive opening credits sequence.  What follows isn't quite as combative but borders on too simple in terms of laying out the central conceit of the film.  Oscar has been reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead and after bidding his sister farewell gets high and hallucinates a pulsating red mass of tendrils and thorns protruding from the walls.

Eventually Oscar goes to The Void (a club) to drop off some drugs and along the way his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) explains to him about the spiritual freedom that TTBotD will allow him.  So the film is in conflict between these two ideas of whether Oscar's experience are a result of his drug fried brain or if he has really ascended as the book describes.  Either way, once Oscar is shot, the film is a glimpse into one man's personal hell in a disquietingly subjective fashion.

From the opening scenes in his apartment to the closing moments of his birth (or possible rebirth), we do not leave Oscar's perception.  One moment he is having sex with his friends mother.  Blink.  He is a baby suckling on his mothers breast.  Blink.  He is in the tub with his mother as she plays with his new sister.  Blink.  He watches as his sister feeds from their mother.  Blink.  He is watching his sister perform at the strip club she was works in.  Blink.  His parents, recently dead from a car accident, while his sister screams marked in their blood.

All the while Noe combines these free association images with a dizzying array of camera tricks.  The film feels like one extremely long take but distorts things in and out of view while splashing the neon lights of Tokyo over everything.  He implements a number of focusing and lens techniques to convey what Oscar's spirit is feeling.

Long after he's lost the ability to think or speak Oscar must simply watch as his sister grieves.

Noe's command of sound is similarly impressive.  In the beginning Oscar's narration is everywhere.  But as he dies the sounds produced are more akin to the emotions of whoever is around.  When things are calm we hear the heartbeat of those still alive.  When things are chaotic it is a well of techno beats, panting, and a low drone that never seems to completely leave our side.

I realize I've discussed more the "how" of the film then how it made me feel.  I was incredibly impressed.  Disquieted, nauseous, depressed and in need of a hug once it was done - but impressed all the same.  Enter the Void is a tremendous accomplishment, placing us in the subjective field of a dying man in a way that is exhilarating and demanding to watch.  It runs for two and a half hours but feels even longer, and I mean that as a compliment.  I drifted into the void along with Oscar, pleading for the moment that he might reach out and touch his sister again but it never came.

Make no mistake, this is not a pleasant film and shouldn't be watched by anyone that's not interested in seeing what a true artist can do with the medium.  Take the plunge.  It's far more rewarding than standing terrified on the sidelines.

Enter the Void (2010)
Written and directed by Gaspar Noe.
Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, and Cyril Roy.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. I watched E the V a few nights ago. There was a lot to like about it: the camerawork, the scope of the piece, the setting. But I found the film rather alienating. The choice of Noe to use improvised dialogue rather than a script resulted in cartoonishly cliche lines, and actors more often than not delivering flat statements of plot points rather than revealing things about themselves. I am a huge believer that movies rest on the strength of the script. I can’t think of a single really good film that didn’t have at its heart a really good script.

    First of all, thank you for your commentary. I agree that the scripting (or lack thereof) wasn’t the highlight of Noe’s film but I don’t think that it was his focus either. What I’m more interested in is your idea that the film relies on the strength of the script. Are you talking about the actual sequence of events or the written dialogue? Because I’m curious about your thoughts on filmmakers like David Lynch (who went into Inland Empire without even having the events plotted out) or experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage (who, in many cases eschews dialogue completely http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaGh0D2NXCA).


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