Oh, Gaspar Noé, you bold, brave, wandering soul. Enter the Void can be summed up as a kaleidoscope of cacophony, though to summarize it at all seems futile. It’s a journey that’s not meant to be comfortable or easy to complete as it strips away chunks of your inhibitions until it can get a chance to have one-on-one time with just your soul. If you don’t like artsy films that try to make you think, then watching Enter the Void will feel like nothing less than sexual and spiritual harassment as you sit through two and a half hours of a screen that’s frequently filled with swirling colors and sexual situations of every kind, including incest and actual unsimulated sex on film.
It’s worth stating up front that the first twenty minutes of this film are incredibly impressive before the phantasmagoria takes over, and had the entire movie kept up pace with the introduction, I’d have no problem labeling this as the best film of 2010 so far. With all of this in mind, are you ready to Enter the Void? Read on with spoiler and spiritual caution. This is an excessively long movie, so this will be an excessively long review.
Your suspicions that the movie might be even more bizarre than its trailer lets on are confirmed when you sit down in theaters and are smacked with these opening credits (skip to 1:10 for the juicy part).
So how does Gaspar Noé top his past movies that contained a ten minute Monica Bellucci rape scene and a cultural sex exploration that included an actual sex scene with an aging pornstar? Gaspar decided to travel the world trying various hardcore drugs with his wife (Lucile Hadzihalilovic), and then have both of them write one of the most spiritual scripts that’s ever reached the screen. Not unlike Inception, it was an incredibly ambitious movie that had been planned out in his head for a decade before he was ready to start the project. Add excessive amounts of drugs, sex, afterlife exploration, and you’ve got the spiritual overdose that is Enter the Void.
The movie begins with a wide array of color filters distorting the screen as a spaced out amateur drug dealer, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), listens to his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), call him a junkie. He denies it until she leaves their Tokyo apartment for her job at the local strip club, at which point he decides to use the hallucinogenic drug DMT. Colorful fractal and cellular spirals grace the screen for a full three minutes before a phone call drags him out of his haze. Joined by his best friend, he walks towards a druggy bar to deliver some of his stash to a contact, and along the way he listens to his friend describe his beliefs on what happens to your soul after you die. Enter club. Realize it’s a police trap. Run to bathroom. Flush drugs. Bangs on door. Foreign screams. Gunshot. Long corpse pause. Soul exits body. From here we witness two hours of exactly what Oscar’s friend previously described. The true journey of the film begins, and we’re about to follow Oscar’s spirit around in the afterlife in a bold vision of what the reincarnation process might feel like.
For the past twenty minutes of the film we’ve been uncomfortably squeezed into the POV camera perspective that uses a videogame FPS standpoint to give the audience a mild head trip to mimic Oscar’s foggy mind. It’s not something the movie tacks on as a cool effect for a single scene, but instead uses it throughout the movie during its many memories and flashbacks as Oscar’s soul lingers and dwells on the past. This helps to show how he always has a gap between what he thinks and how he feels, and that he’s accustomed to the odd feeling of knowing the distinction between the Oscar that he knows and the Oscar that others know.
As a direct contrast to that claustrophobic camera view, Oscar’s freed spirit can now zoom around at free will as he wanders through walls, up into the sky, or even into the heads of still living souls to inhabit their minds. This surreal Being John Malkovich experience isn’t one it takes lightly, and for the rest of the film we hop from head to head living vicariously through the other characters that are still alive. Oscar’s only remaining need – his sole psychological ego – in his existence is to find a new shell to live within, and because of this we see a deluge of desires and indulgences that act as the guiding forces of this movie. We helplessly watch his id guide him to some of his darkest longings (inhabiting the head of the man who’s having sex with his sister), but he constantly returns to warm memories (sucking on his mother’s breast) and painful decisions that nag him like a Holden Caulfield character who’s reluctant to jump off the rye field cliff to the afterlife that awaits him.
This unrestricted style of storytelling allows us to see how his friends react to his death in different ways. Unfortunately the limitless options even overwhelm Gaspar at times, and hopping around frequently hurts the film on more than a few occasions. The film didn’t need to continue with the drug lord subplot after Oscar’s death, yet the film keeps up with it like it almost wants to be a murder mystery movie. Then, just as we commit to playing out the drug lord’s story, he disappears for the rest of the film.
Drifting successfully works for continuing his sister’s plot and his betrayer’s plot, but then a new problem emerges as we’re slapped with far too many flashback scenes. It’s done deliberately to help give us a taste of how these memories weighed on Oscar’s mind every day while he was living, but that doesn’t make it any less maddening to sit through. Not to mention the film’s obsession with zooming in on the “essence” of random objects in the room. I actually wish we would have been pigeon holed into the heads of people more often instead of zooming in and out of cigarette trays and sink holes for half the film.
This gritty and raw realness in the first half hour of Enter the Void is like a drug in and of itself, and I was craving for a greater ratio of the film to stick to its roots. With BUF Compagnie digitally editing some scenes to the point where you can’t tell what’s real, what’s CGI, or what’s tilt-shift sequences, we’re given a high that’s a little too much for us to handle, leaving us constantly trying to grasp for reality in each scene so we can come down from our neverending trip. Add music influenced by LFO’s Freak song and edited by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, and you’ve got an astral creation that says “Fine. I’ll do what everyone else is afraid to do. Cowards.” It’s ridiculous that the simple concept of reincarnation has been recycled through the centuries for so long and yet hardly any films dare to tackle it on a grand scale beyond the level of being a Christmas Carol knockoff.
The flaws in Enter the Void are massively exacerbated by the large repetition of them, but the majority are there for the purpose of being painful. And believe me, when you hear the screams of Linda in past and present scenes, it certainly sticks with you for days. It’s debatable how successful the symbols are, with a bright “Enter the Void” sign that’s eerily reminiscent of the Eckleburg eyes billboard in The Great Gatsby, but it’s undeniable that the realness in which it portrays the seedy parts of a town and its strip club make Aronofsky’s The Wrestler look laughably pathetic, and all of Hollywood look like lazy, fearful enemies of originality. Even with its glaring flaws, it’s insanely refreshing to see such a fearless film embrace the edge of artistic and moral standards and wobble around fiercely.