Enter the Void
Gaspar Noé dives into the afterlife
Published: January 26, 2011
Enter the Void
Directed by Gaspar Noé
On IFC Home Video
It’s the migration from waste to wound to childhood that really makes you reach for the smelling salts. About 90 minutes into the 161-minute director’s cut of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, the camera hovers over and pulls back from the dead body of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young man shot in a dingy Tokyo bathroom by cops during a drug bust. The camera continues pulling back until Oscar’s body vanishes. The screen fades to black until the shot appears to emerge from the drain of a Turkish toilet as a man cleans the stall where Oscar once lay. The camera maintains this overhead point of view, and then floats over Tokyo’s skyline as if a bird, settling over Oscar’s lifeless body on a coroner’s table where his younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) identifies him. The camera circles over Oscar as if in quiet contemplation before plunging into the bullet hole in his chest. It eventually emerges from a circular hole in a children’s playground—before drifting over to a crematorium where Oscar’s body is entering the oven. This wordless, almost soundless six-minute odyssey suggests a woozy, nonjudgmental visual chain between the events witnessed, and the effect is strangely powerful. And it’s one of the more logical stretches in Void, a movie that after four viewings remains as confounding as it did the first, hallucinatory time around.
Not that it’s unknowable; its story—and organizing idea—is dorm-room simple. Oscar and Linda are two young Americans living in a tight Tokyo flat. She dances in a strip club. He deals drugs and has a thing for a psychedelic called DMT. It’s almost always night, and Tokyo is this glowing day-glo wonderland that looks like Paper Rad did the set design for Tron: Legacy. Club music almost always lurks just around the corner. Somebody is almost always having sex or doing drugs somewhere. The women are young and skinny and tend to lose their clothing after doing some kind of mind-altering substance. The Tibetan Book of the Dead and reincarnation get bandied about. Remember those two rich white dudes who spent the first semester of freshman year taking mushrooms and listening to Meddle all the fucking time? Imagine the movie they might make after they were kicked out midway through sophomore year and moved to Japan.
What keeps Void from disappearing completely up its own druggy ass is the absolute conviction of its audacious formal conceit. Void is told entirely from Oscar’s point of view: first as a sentient, if frequently stoned, young man in Tokyo, and then after he’s killed—about 28 minutes into the running time—as a disembodied spirit, ghost, consciousness, whatever that re-experiences his life sensations, checks in on his sister, and ultimately gets reborn (you’ll need to see the flick to appreciate the churlishness of how).
This approach makes the majority of Void Oscar’s death trip, recycling through moments already witnessed onscreen and flashbacks to Oscar and Linda’s childhood traumas. The mix of stylistic provocation and an adolescent sense of morality that made Irreversible so frustratingly one-dimensional is absorbed here by Oscar’s age: His cosmic sense isn’t going to be that sophisticated or subtle, and childhood emotions—primal scenes, parental loss, the iron-clad certainty of sibling promises—retain their ineffability.
What’s bewildering is how potent Void becomes. It’s not pleasant to watch, but it is bizarrely mesmerizing. Even by the movie’s end, when Oscar’s spirit/ghost/consciousness/whatevs wanders through the Love hotel checking in on various fornicating people with streaks of lava-lamp neon shooting out of their genitals, watching Void is less Spencer Gifts than transporting immersion. Void unspools at its own often maddening pace for two hours and 41 minutes, and even when you know what’s coming it lulls you like a pop narcotic.
Just why it is so engrossing feels fugitive, though. Void has earned Noé comparisons to the cinematic adventurers of the 1960s and ’70s, but those lysergic head trips—such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, Jaromil Jires’ sublime Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Fernando Arrabal’s Viva La Muerte, or even something as impish as Can Dialectics Break Bricks?—felt like the visual experience and narrative information wanted to combine to precipitate some as-yet undiscovered idea, feeling, or reality, man. Void’s form and content are fused to articulate its singular journey; just what that journey is trying to say, though, remains out of reach.
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