Enter the Void

Synopsis: Controversial and brilliant director Gasper Noe follows his worldwide sensation Irreversible with another triumph. Enter The Void is Noe’s most assured and haunting film yet, a “head trip” a la Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and at the same time a piercing modern drama. Newcomer Nathaniel Brown and Paz de la Huerta (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) star as a brother and sister trapped in the hellish nighttime world of Tokyo where he deals drugs and she works as a stripper.

A crime gone bad leads to shocking violence and then moments of transcendence in which the movie plunges viewers into death and rebirth like no film has ever done before via “mesmerizing camerawork” (The New York Times) that make it “a dazzling and brutal exercise in cinematic envelope-pushing” (New York Post). Stunning audiences around the world, Enter The Void is a cinematic experience like no other.

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Enter the Void 6.5

eyelights: its trip. its visuals.
eyesores: its unbearable length. its pathetic characters. its crappy dialogues. its mundane plot. its disappointing sound design.

“DMT only lasts for six minutes, but it really seems like an eternity.”

Most of us wonder about the afterlife at some point or another. Whether we’re religious, spiritual or atheist, the inscrutability of death stirs the imagination, fears, even relief. But, no matter our belief system, there is no way to actually know what awaits us until we’re faced with it.

The ‘Bardo Thodol’ (or, as it’s commonly known here, ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’) is a book whose intent is to provide the living with an sense of what to expect after death. It’s broken down into three (or six, depending on the edition) different bardos, or states of consciousness.

(at least, this is my understanding, as I haven’t actually read or researched the book)

Gaspar Noé’s ‘Enter the Void’ takes its inspiration from ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’. Released in 2009, the motion picture follows Oscar as he dies during a drug deal gone wrong and spends the remainder of the picture looking down at the events that are unfolding in his absence.

The plot, such as it is, unfolds from a first-person perspective, initially as though Oscar’s eyes were the camera, and later (after his passing) with the back of his head and shoulders in the foreground. It’s the kind of movie that would probably translate well as a virtual reality experience.

However, it’s a trippy film, which might prove too challenging for V/R audiences: Oscar begins the picture by dropping DMT and Noé based much of the visuals on his own use of hallucinogens; he showers the screen with psychedelia and all manners of effects and odd camera moves.

The psychedelic effects are are vivid and quite immersive; I found myself really enjoying the trip. If anything, those sequences are reminiscent of the vortex sequence at the end of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ (one of Noé favourite films) – though these ones are much more elaborate.

(Then again, Kubrick didn’t have CGI to work with…)

Thankfully, the camerawork isn’t nearly as chaotic or jarring as it was in his previous picture, ‘Irréversible‘ (whose success is the reason for the making of ‘Enter the Void’, after decades in gestation); at no point can one get motion sickness or lose track of what’s going on.

From a technical standpoint, ‘Enter the Void’ is a marvel; Noé was able to take us into Oscar’s in and out-of-body experiences. We’re not just bystanders but participants: His eyes are our eyes, his movements our movements. The skill of his camerawork often belies its complexity.

Granted, a lot of this was the result of post-production, including well over a year of editing and CGI work to create the near-psychedelic effect. All the more reason why it’s disappointing that the soundscapes aren’t as immersive as you’d expect; you’d expect to hear what Oscar hears.

Despite all of the editing, the picture is somewhat inarticulate, both due to an overbearing length and improvised dialogues: the director’s original cut runs at 160+ minutes and most of it is presented in subjective “real time”, as Oscar dives ahead towards his destiny.

The first act is the most accessible, as it sets up Oscar’s downfall. The second act is the longest and most inaccessible, as Oscar endlessly floats from one point to the next to observe reactions to his demise. The third act is a mess of indulgences that are just best left unmentioned.

To give you an idea of how dreadfully long this can get, right from the onset we are treated to Oscar and his best friend Alex discussing the basic tenets of ‘The Book of the Dead’ while walking down the fire escape one dreary floor after the next. Burnouts walking and talking.

Wee.

The dialogues are cringe-worthy. Though they may be contextually appropriate given the sharpness of the characters, the mundanity of their utterings and the caliber of their vernacular is incredibly embarrassing. Mind you, most of the dialogues were improvised by the performers…

The performances are also nothing to write home about. They’re not completely terrible, but none of the actors and non-actors make their characters three-dimensional; one certainly isn’t wowed by their emotional depth or the precision of their delivery. It’s like dropping a sandbag.

And, frankly, the characters are all pathetic; there isn’t a soul amongst them worth caring about: Oscar’s an aimless slacker, Linda is a waxy bubblebrain, Alex is a mumbling cockroach, and Victor is a wimpering simp. The worst of fates could befall them and I’d probably just shrug it off.

Frankly, I wanted to enjoy ‘Enter the Void’. I really did; I’d waited years to see it. And the first 20 minutes or so was fairly enjoyable – mostly for the mindblowing DMT trip, mind you. Sadly, it’s an indulgent, ponderous, bloated experience; it’s a miserable drag to plough through.

The worst of it is that, ultimately, it’s probably not even the best metaphysical psychedelic crime drama, a spare genre to say the least. Despite years of preparation, Gaspar Noé’s opus falls well short of expectations and intentions; it’s not transcendental so much as it is turgid.

If this is what the afterlife is like, no wonder people try to avoid it all costs.

Date of viewing: November 26, 2017

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