You will love this film. You will hate this film. You will be absorbed and fascinated. You will be alienated and bored. You will emerge from the cinema blinking at the sheer genius of what you have just seen. You will emerge from the cinema shaking your head at the desperate pretension you have just witnessed. Whatever way you look at it, Enter the Void WILL sow a seed of opinion in you that will grow and flourish as time goes by. The question is, will that seed turn out to be a radiant orchid or a poison tree?
There is absolutely no getting around it. Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void will provoke arguments. People will either find themselves absorbed into the film's moist folds, lustily enjoying the trippy mind fuck it lasciviously wraps them in. Others will feel like they've run full pelt into a brick wall, hating every moment of the bad trip as each second reinforces their belief that this is nothing more than pretentious directorial wankery of the worst kind. And, really, it's very hard to predict where you'll fall before you see the movie. You have been warned.
Enter The Void assaults you the moment it begins. The opening credits strobe and flash away at bewildering speed as the constantly throbbing, pulsating, soundtrack flip-flops across the stereo spectrum. It's deliberately disorienting, designed to lock your attention to the screen and almost hypnotise you as you desperately attempt to recognise and cling to snippets of information from the amorphous blend of shifting fonts and colours flickering in front of you. It's almost with a gasp that you find yourself thrown into the first part of the film proper, witnessed first person (blinks and all) through the eyes of Oscar, a young drug dealer living in Tokyo.
Let's not beat around the bush. This film isn't the most accessible feature ever made but, in a way, it should be. So versed are we in the standard "remote observer" role of the camera that when we're presented with a viewpoint that's far more natural, far more like our own perception of the world, it feels utterly alien. At least, it does if you fight what you're seeing. Like the hallucinogenics phasing through Oscar's brain, you have to sit back and absorb the trip. Float with what you're seeing and wonder at the beauty of the kaleidoscopic images that unfold around you and the movie will carry you along, morphing the images in a way that soon feels utterly natural. Resist and it's one bad trip all the way.
Much has been made of the phantasmagorical visuals of Enter the Void, and for no bad reason. Even if you utterly despise the film you have to at least admire the sheer technical ambition behind what's up on the screen. As Oscar's trip begins, reality falls away to floating, changing, geometrical shapes that shimmer and blend with the soundtrack holistically. Some of these effects are quite astonishing, almost appearing 3D on the flat screen as they rotate and unfold before you. Even when reality takes hold again, it's hyper-real. Colours glow and residual images from the trip lurk at the corner of the screen as Oscar attempts to work out what's real again.
Oscar's doped-out state influences everything we see and hear. Dialogue often takes the form of mumbled and naturalistic non-conversation, almost an accompaniment to the electronic soundtrack playing in his mind. Moments of consilience abound, as Oscar's stream of consciousness flashes back and forth, linking concepts, images, thoughts, with events and conversations from his past.
This is especially noticeable as we enter the second part of the film. During a drugs bust, Oscar is fascinated to find himself shot through the chest and dying in the toilet of a small bar. His consciousness seems to lift out of his body, watching as the police burst in and examine his wounds. Everything that happens afterwards is directly influenced by a conversation he had shortly before his "death" about The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Oscar will leave his body and float through the world, perhaps not willing to accept his state. He'll observe those he knew; have moments of flashback and horror before finally becoming at one with what he has become and allowing himself to be reborn. But first, his life will pass before his eyes.
What Noé does here is extremely clever. The film follows the original structure of The Book of the Dead, the path of the journey fresh in Oscar's mind, while merging it with the alternative psychedelic interpretation used to "structure" drug trips. Through the flashback section, we're introduced to a number of images and thoughts that later spring up as parts of the journey Oscar's consciousness takes. Is this part of the acid trip he embarked on before being shot? Is he really dead and are we witnessing the final journey of his soul? The links between DMT and near-death experiences are frequently cited, and some scientists believe that this psychotropic is naturally secreted in the brain and can be released in massive doses as we approach a death state in order to ease our progress from this world. Similar, in a way, to the interpretation that the ending of Spielberg's AI is not to be taken literally but represents a shutdown routine designed to keep the near-immortal robot calm as he enters his last moments. We know Oscar was a user of DMT and fascinated by the potential that stronger strains could bring him. Is this ultimate trip caused by what he smoked or, more tragically, natural causes?
Noé is attempting to simulate a drug trip for the viewer by all possible means. The structure of the narrative is just as important as the visuals. By utilising consilience, the director is able to surge from time periods and concepts, seemingly unlinked, to provide a picture of what Oscar holds dear. We morph from the sexual sucking of a lover's breast, to breastfeeding, to sharing a bath with his sister and mother as a child. There's a constant intimacy between Oscar and Linda, his sister, which is key to his psyche and is borne out of guilt and tragedy. Theirs is a bond of love created first through happiness and death and held in place by a fear of separation. Some may take the physical closeness, especially surrounding nudity and sex, as signs of an incestuous relationship, but it's much more designed to show the full and open ease and trust the two feel between each other. When the disembodied Oscar passes into the point of view of Linda's lovers, it's almost as if he's checking she's genuinely happy as much as sharing an intimacy he never would in life. A later shot of a distraught Linda lying in a playground mirrors exactly Oscar's position as he bled out in the toilet, a sign of his fears as to what will happen to her if he leaves her alone in this world.
This is an enormously holistic film. Image, structure and sound combine in a cinematic melting pot; all essential to the final blend. The shooting of Oscar, for example, is much more powerful through being seen from his eyes and, when coupled with the concussive blast on the soundtrack, we almost feel the bullet burst from our chest. It's the same with the recurrent car-crash flashback; the moment of impact so sudden it's upon us with a subsonic blast that you physically feel pass through you. The amorphous soundtrack blends long, droning electronic pedals with throbbing effects that brought to mind Coil's superb Time Machines album (itself themed around aurally recreating a number of hallucinogenic drugs). In fact, music from Coil's ANS album, produced using a Russian synthesizer that utilises visual images to produce music, features in the movie. This sort of music is the perfect soundtrack to the visuals, the drones allowing more ambient, or even other musical selections, to drift over the top to create a seamless whole. The visuals become more neon, more stylised and less "real" as the music throbs more and more, lifting us through a Love Hotel where the copulating couples emanate wispy strands of sexual energy that bring to mind the censored erections from the original UK release of Mysteries of the Organism. This pulsates to a quite literal climax that washes over the audience allowing us to be reborn in a complex and abrupt ending designed to leave the viewer disoriented and still stoned.
I guess from my tone you can tell which side of the fence I sit on regarding this film. It's a film that's grown on me the more I've thought about it since, and I'm sure this will be the case for others. It was an experience more than a movie in the traditional sense and I'm glad I found myself able to sink back into my seat and let the trip take me wherever it headed, just as Oscar does. From my understanding of them, the film presents a reasonably accurate representation of a psychotropic voyage, with all the beauty, horror and monotony they may involve. This is enormously different to Noé's previous work, yet feels like a natural step forward. Look at the progress in technicality and narrative structure between I Stand Alone and Irreversible. Here, Noé plays with structure even further, almost providing a narrative through anti-narrative, and utilises camera effects and transitions developed in the earlier film to phenomenal new levels.
But I can understand not everyone will feel the same way. Void isn't an easy film and those expecting Irreversible 2 will be disappointed. If you're unable to enter the film at an early point you may well find yourself locked out, becoming increasingly annoyed at the seemingly aimless meanderings projected in front of you. The lack of conventional structure or narrative will push many away and cause them to accuse the film of all sorts of crimes against the viewer. It's perfectly understandable. Even in the press screening I attended a number of journalists were quite vocal in their dislike for the film, which is very unusual. Art speaks differently to different people and sadly there will be those unlucky enough to only hear sound and thunder from this.
For me, this was one of the most interesting and rewarding films I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time. I'm not sure I could stand up to another viewing straight away, but I look forward to the day when I can lay back and let the Void take me once again.
Review by Paul Bird
|Released by Trinity Film Entertainment/Wild Bunch|