French director Gaspar Noé has fashioned himself a reputation as a provocateur. His films push the boundaries of what his audiences, and of course various classification boards around the world, can handle.
His debut, I Stand Alone (1998), is a brutal companion piece to Taxi Driver, complete with a final act so graphic that Noé prefaces it with a title card that offers the audience a chance to leave the theatre before viewing it; of course no one would leave, at least until the violence starts…
He then courted world-wide controversy with his follow up, Irreversible (2002) featuring Monica Bellucci, an international star. The movie that featured the now infamous nine-minute, single shot anal rape scene.
Enter the Void is a 3 hour extension of the camera work featured throughout the first half of Irreversible. It could be described as an acid trip in film, featuring dizzying, swirling camera work, lurid colour palette and strobe lighting effects, although technically a brilliant experiment, unlike his previous efforts it falls short on genuine interest.
The film is told throughout from a first-person perspective of a young American, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a drug dealer and addict in Tokyo. He lives with his sister Linda (Paz De La Huerta), a pole dancer. The siblings share a close bond due to the early death of their parents while they were young; all they have is each other.
When Oscar is beaten to death in a bathroom deal, his spirit leaves his body and takes a trip around Tokyo, staying close to his sister, through his spirit we witness her descent as he experiences death as “the ultimate trip.”
Before he dies, Oscars French friend Alex (Cyril Roy) gives him a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and explains the central belief of the book, and of course, the film we are watching:
- The spirit leaves the body after you die.
- You can see and hear everything, but can’t communicate with the land of the living.
- Lights put you on different planes of existence.
- The “bad dream” ends in reincarnation.
The film then ticks off that list throughout its duration as it portrays life as bleak, while the “death trip” is seen as the ultimate drug-fuelled head trip. Oscar follows Linda, experiencing her unwanted pregnancy, and abortion, he follows Alex who has sunk to new lows, he sees the death of his parents by car crash clearer than his earlier memories of it. And there we have it, Oscar and Linda’s lives were shattered by the death of their parents and they struggled to cope… duh!
Where life is jarring and gritty, the afterlife is fluid and trippy, so it doesn’t really matter if Oscar, Linda or Alex waste their life in their pursuit of sex or drugs, or whatever, they’ll enjoy their death and eventual rebirth. .. or not, it’s hard to care.
Of course this is a Noé film, so we have the expected shots of graphic sex, real or acted, it’s not important, and that’s pretty much my feeling about this ‘difficult’ third film from Noé. He brings so many ideas to the mix, he’s an original thinker, pushing those boundaries again, however for me this was a tedious exercise. It’s a simple plot, over complicated by artistic experimentation. Some judicious editing could have lifted this film to the heights of his earlier efforts.
It’s hard to dismiss the film as Noé is at least trying something new, as I’ve mentioned, he’s an original voice; he experiments with film as a medium and even though I found this film lacking the emotional punch of his earlier efforts, it certainly doesn’t lack their visual and artistic energy.
It’s original, experimental, distinctive and pretentious. As odd and out there as anything by Alejandro Jodorowsky and seemingly styled as a head trip with the pretentions of 2001: A Space Odyssey, albeit with all the style and none of the substance. I don’t mind being shocked, just don’t bore me.
Epileptics beware; there is incessant flashing strobe lighting throughout.
Quality: 4 out of 5 stars.
Any Good: 1 out of 5 stars