One night, a powerful case of insomnia hit me and I could not sleep no matter what. Hour and hour went by, and by about 3AM, I sucked it up and went looking through my movie collection. I had long been looking forward to seeing Enter the Void and it beckoned me. What a great time to pop in such a bizarre trip of a film. Screw Midnight Movies: This is a 3AM movie.
I may mention this more than a few times, but this has to be hands down the most unique film I have experienced this past decade. Director Gaspar Noé has truly mastered the filmmaking craft and I can honestly say he is currently in the forefront of contemporary auteurs. As a community of movie lovers and aspiring filmmakers, we truly are blessed to have a mind like this working in an era rife with generic redundancies.
If you’re at all familiar with Noé’s previous film Irreversible then you’ll be ready for his disorienting camera style. This time around, instead of the disorienting 360 shots he familiarized us with in Irreversible we get a blend of god’s-eye-view overhead shots floating throughout the city mixed with lots and lots of scenes draped in strobe lights. Sometimes the overhead shots go on as long as 10 minutes, if not longer. While these recurrent moments might drive a wedge between the film and its audience, I found them to be absolutely alluring and stimulating. This is the kind of presentation where the experience itself is the film’s focus over the story itself.
It all begins literally through the point of view of the protagonist, Oscar as he stares off his balcony in Tokyo. We see through his eyes, lids blinking and all as he smokes his favorite hallucinogen, enduring an intense trip as we, the audience takes in a surprisingly lengthy visual psychedelic experience before returning back to his reality. This opening sequence may turn some viewers off, but it’s necessary for the sake of setting the mood for what is to come.
I don’t feel I’m spoiling much by saying this, especially considering the films epic length, but this POV style lasts only for the first 20 minutes and dissolves into an open-ended, almost plotless trip throughout Tokyo’s darker, more decadent realms. This “trip” shifts from the overhead shots gleaming across what everyone is going through in real time, to an occasional over the shoulder camera angle of Oscar. This is what I believe to be him looking within his past intermixed with his supposed “spirit” watching the current world overhead.
And this brings perhaps the film’s most important aspect to debate: What exactly is Oscar experiencing? Is it one man’s out-of-body experience as his spirit journeys; looking for the people most important to him before expiring to the afterlife? Or are we just seeing a compilation of last thoughts zooming throughout the drugged-induced brain of a junkie tripping balls and on his last breath? The answer, in the end seems open for interpretation.
I know I haven’t said too much about the plot itself, and that is because I believe this is one of those kinds of films where, the less you know walking in the better. There are scenes where virtually nothing happens, plot-wise; everything outside the camera and lighting stand almost still, and while many will find such moments pretentious, do not be deceived. This film is rife with moments where the camera just flows about, focusing on certain sequences and events. They might seem pointless, and I hate using this overused analogy, but it really is like viewing a painting; where your mind gathers what’s before you yet, for better or worse, you don’t quite grasp every aspect happening in a single sitting. It’s these sordid images that creep up on you, maybe later that night, or the next day at work while your mind wanders.
The two leads Nathaniel Brown as Oscar and Paz de la Huerta as his sister Linda were practically monotone, neither of them standing out very much. It doesn’t hurt the film though, as the camerawork and visuals are the real star of the show. But perhaps that’s what makes and breaks Enter the Void; it feels like most of the time was spent on the visuals, causing the character development to sink back into a secondary role to the whole of the film, making the cast less interesting then they could have been.
Paz de la Huerta, whom most American viewers will recognize from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, plays Linda, Oscar’s lustful and frequently nude sister. I think Paz is one of those actresses who is a nudist at heart, as her lush sexuality bursts all over this film, so that’s definitely a plus for any fans of her “talent”. Before, I never really found her to be that impressive as an actress, though she actually surprised me with her abilities here.
While both leads are rather dull in Enter the Void, the actors can’t be blamed for their delivery. I believe it was Noé’s intention to make these people seem so disconnected. Much like the astronauts in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the characters we superficially relate most to end up being the least emotionally engaging. It takes the entire cerebral experience Oscar undergoes to understand more about these people outside of their own spoken words. The supporting cast was all-around exceptional, but the one performance that really stood out and pulsated every character interaction was Cyril Roy as Alex, Oscar’s colorful and drug-addicted best friend from France. Alex is easily one of the films high points, adding a certain degree of sympathy among all the dark subject matter enshrouding this epic psychedelic nightmare.
Let this be made clear: Enter the Void is not a film for everyone. Even fans of more out there surreal masterworks, such as Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ , Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, or even Noé’s own previous entries may still find this to be an estranged and tedious endurance. But Void cannot go unnoticed, as this may very well be one of the most unique cinematic experiences in too long a time. If you enjoyed the sensations you felt whilst watching the more out there films of dark surreal masters such as David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick, then it goes without saying: you owe it to yourself to see this film. If you’re a fan of the experimental and arthouse, or consider yourself an open-minded movie lover who is ready for something completely different, to all of you I implore, waste no time in seeing Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void. It may not be the most feel good movie of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most surreal, bizarre and above all, original experiences you’ll ever have.
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