Enter the Void, 2009.
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander, and Emily Alyn Lind.
A drug dealer is shot by police and his spirit floats around Tokyo, connecting with the past, present and future of himself and his sister.
There are movies that can give you a gut punch and there are movies that can batter you over the head until your eyes bleed but how often do you see a movie that could be called an all-out assault on all of your senses? Every time Gaspar Noé makes a movie is probably the only correct answer.
Enter the Void is at once kind-of familiar in style if you have seen Noé’s more recent movie Climax but it is also unlike anything you have seen before, at least without chemical assistance. Originally released in 2009, Enter the Void is now getting the Limited Edition Blu-ray treatment from Arrow Video, and if neon-lit, drug-induced head trips are your thing then this is definitely going to be the boutique release for you.
Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is an American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his sex worker sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta). One evening Linda goes out while Oscar sits in their apartment and gets high, shortly before getting visited by his friend Alex (Cyril Roy). The pair go for a walk before Oscar breaks away to go and meet his friend Victor (Olly Alexander) at a dive known as The Void, which gets raided by the police and in the ensuing chaos Oscar is shot and killed.
But this is all in the first 25 minutes, and what follows is Oscar’s spirit flying around Tokyo, looking down on Linda, Alex and various other characters whilst also having visions of his past – walking in on his parents having sex, being separated from Linda after his parents’ death and other events that have clearly shaped his present – and taking in what has happened since his death.
And that is literally it, although nothing with Gaspar Noé is ever as simple as it sounds. With very little narrative structure, minimal dialogue and Gaspar Noé’s provocative filmmaking style, Enter the Void is definitely a film to experience rather than enjoy. Everything is shot from Oscar’s perspective, from the opening scene of him talking to Linda through to the drug-taking, the colourful swirls he can see, getting shot and everything that follows afterwards, so – much like with Climax and, to a lesser extent, his notorious 2002 rape-revenge piece Irreversible – Noé is very much putting you the viewer at the forefront and making you complicit in whatever Oscar’s spirit partakes in, and yes, most of it is watching people having sex.
But these aren’t nice people having loving sex. No, these are characters like Linda, who may be Oscar’s sister but she hangs around with the wrong people and, invariably, has sex with them. There is also Victor, who finds out that his mother slept with Oscar and gave him money so that he could bring Linda over to Tokyo, and Alex, with whom Oscar wanted Linda to be with instead of her nightclub boss, and he gets his wish after seeing her have an abortion and then go to a love hotel with Alex.
The thing is, Oscar’s spirit seems to jump into people’s heads, goes back in time, stays in the present and even witnesses his own birth, because… well, drugs and spirituality (Oscar is reading a book about Tibetan philosophy and the afterlife, lent to him by Alex, before he is killed) basically. Oscar, and us because we are complicit in what he sees, zooms around all over the place as various threads sort of tie together but not really, people have sex and then more people have sex, Oscar has parental issues with sex, more people have sex, drugs, sex, shouting, swearing, sex, floating, sex and then he’s a sperm, as he watches Linda have sex – and this goes on for over two hours after Oscar is originally killed so don’t expect an easy ride, or flight, as the case may be.
Despite its narrative shortcomings and overly long run time, Enter the Void is, on a technical level, a pretty spectacular piece of work, with Gaspar Noé’s camera whizzing around the streets and alleyways of Tokyo (or the film set) with fluid ease, which isn’t easy when you’re not using drone technology. Such a bizarre but impressive movie needs a lot of supplementary material to give the whole thing some perspective but Arrow have come up with the goods, packing in various special effects featurettes, archival production documentaries, a video interview with typography designer and long-term Noé collaborator Tom Kan – and those opening titles do deserve an in-depth discussion (skip them if you’re prone to seizures) – plus a brand new visual essay on the film by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicolas, who picks over all of the different meanings, interpretations and details that you may not get from an initial viewing. For good measure, Arrow have included the 141-minute UK Theatrical Cut and the 161-minute Director’s Cut but seeing as this is a Gaspar Noé film then a Director’s Cut is probably the only way you should see it. As if all of that wasn’t enough then there are some suitably garish artcards and poster, plus a booklet featuring more essays and interpretations of the film.
So yes, Enter the Void is a strange experience but, as is the norm with Gaspar Noé, that is the intention. However, once you get past the initial setup and the first hour of Oscar floating about and being fixated on sex and death, it does get a little repetitive and the slow pace just drags out everything that happens in the final act, which is basically just Oscar watching various couples having sex. No doubt this is part of the psychedelic, tripped-out experience that the director wants to take you on but it does get a bit tedious when there is only the bare bones of a narrative to hang the admittedly impressive visuals on. Nevertheless, if transgressive filmmaking lights your fire, and you thought Climax was quite inventive, then Enter the Void is worth experiencing at least once but repeated hits of it may prove fatal to the uninitiated.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★