Enter the Void (2010)
Directed by: Gasper Noé
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy
Run Time: 161 minutes
Enter the Void opens with credits set to a machine gun pace with accompanying machine gun noise. The credits are practically and purposely unreadable given their millisecond screen presence, but the sequence achieves the abstraction of a techno dance. It’s symptomatic of the style of French provocateur Gaspar Noe, who is a talented stylist but meager philosopher.
Enter the Void is a fantasy exploration of the after life by Noe, an atheist, and his imagination of the after life is restrictively literal. Basically, humans die to become hovering, intangible ghosts that continue to wander the physical realm and still have to traverse physical space to get from one place to another, which is unfortunate for the viewer. That’s because the whole movie takes the literal point of view of the protagonist Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) like in the gimmick film Lady in the Lake, the rough cinematic equivalent to telling a story in the second person. We even get Oscar’s blinking (which can be convenient when Noe has to make cuts or switch takes). On the other hand, instead of cutting to the next scene, the camera physically travels across the city. This is fine and interesting the first few times, but doing this dozens of times throughout the film becomes both wearying and dizzying. And that is true for the film as a whole. Noe makes the movie fairly effective for a good while before both technique and content get tiresome.
The story follows a young American drug-dealer in Tokyo. One of our first experiences with him, as we see everything through his eyes, is getting high. He/we see wisps of smoke, abstract shapes that resemble 3-D snowflakes or jellyfish, myriad colors – all reminiscent of the trippy “Beyond the Infinite” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After hanging out with a friend, he gets killed in what may have been a set-up. His ghost then follows around his stripper sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and various friends while recollecting the past – how his parents died leaving him and Linda as young orphans who promise never to leave each other but were forcibly separated, his getting into the drug scene in Tokyo, his bringing his sister to Japan, and his getting involved with a married older woman.
Enter the Void can be separated into three sections – the first being the present before Oscar’s death, the second delving into Oscar and Linda’s past, and the third being the future of those still living (still seen through Oscar’s ghostly eyes). Noe’s style sustains itself into the second section before petering. Early on, the camera tracks the characters as they go down seven flights of stairs that happen to be located on the outside of the building so that night-time Tokyo is the backdrop of the shot. Tokyo’s neon lights are so bright that night practically turns into day in some shots. When Oscar dies, the scene is powerful, recalling the death in All About My Mother, but then Noe inserts a visual joke of Oscar “entering the light” but it’s really just his point-of-view of an overhead light bulb.
The movie, however, is also quite irritating visually. Much of the film, maybe even the majority of it, is purposefully out of focus to capture the haziness of the afterlife, and it employs a tremendous amount of annoying strobe effects. The second section goes on for so long that one wonders why we had to enter Oscar’s after-life to spend so much time dwelling on his past. The movie’s symbolism – the Tibetan Bible of the Dead, the female breast as metaphor for sex and life – is blatant and doubly so when the film keeps repeating them. Adding in Noe’s sexual provocations (Paz de la Huerta spends half her screen time in various states of undress or having sex), particularly one shot from the interior of Linda’s vagina being penetrated by a penis (still from Oscar’s perspective!) and it all feels a bit ridiculous. Noe’s style is near-experimental, which is often not a good thing, but even worse, the content is simplistic and monotonous.