I have a love-hate relationship with the work of director Gaspar Noe. While I admire his technique and his willingness to dive into the lowest depths of hell in order to reveal difficult truths, his films, for the most part, are nearly unwatchable for many different reasons.
I mentioned his “willingness to dive into the lowest depths of hell” at the begging of this review. That was no understatement. The first half of his film, Irreversible, feels exactly like a trip to Hades and back. His camera swirls and dips constantly, disorienting us and giving us a migraine, before he takes us into a seriously disgusting sex club where we witness one of the most graphic murders ever filmed. Irreversible is a revenge drama, and so the film begins with this sequence, before scaling back to reveal the events that led up to the murder. This particular event happens to be a brutal rape in a train station. Gaspar presents the reality of the situation, never pulling away, for nine whole minutes. During these moments, Gaspar intentionally inserts a low sound frequency into the mix, which induces nausea in humans. Gaspar wants to make us physically sick in order that we may connect with the victim of this heinous crime on some level. Irreversible ends with a dizzying, yet beautiful, moment at a family park which takes place before all of the tragedy that we have endured. Before the film ends, the camera spins round and round, gaining speed, as a rapid strobe effect fills the frame until the film abruptly ends.
This is not entertainment. This is an experience. Some would call it punishment. After my first viewing of Irreversible (there hasn’t been a second as of yet) I wasn’t quite sure where I stood. I felt totally violated. I felt a little sick at my stomach. I had to take a moment to thank God that I didn’t have a seizure – not that I’m epileptic – however, if you are, stay far away from the films of Gaspar Noe. I hated what I had seen, and yet I knew that on some level, it had deeply affected me. I couldn’t ignore that. I couldn’t write the film off as mere exploitation. Irreversible was a worthy film.
Gaspar Noe followed up Irreversible with Enter the Void, and it is just as much of an assault of your senses – yet there are moments of such beauty and profundity that you will not be able to look away. It is a neon lit, hypnotic dream of a film, like nothing that I have seen before or since.
The film opens as a young man named Oscar stares out into the night sky of Tokyo, pondering life after death. He tells his sister, a stripper named Linda, about the book that his friend, Alex, has loaned him: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a Buddhist text concerning life after death. Linda disapproves of Oscar’s friendship with Alex, claiming that Alex is turning into a junkie. You see, Oscar is a drug dealer. He has been for some time, since he moved to Tokyo years ago. Despite what his sister may think, Oscar is not technically a junkie. Not yet, anyway. However, he does dabble from time to time, experimenting with certain psychedelic drugs, namely DMT. One night, Oscar leaves with Alex to make a drug deal at a club called The Void. The two men discuss the Tibetan Book of the Dead in great detail. According to the book, your spirit will remain amongst the living after your death. You will drift aimlessly, until your spirit becomes restless, tormented with nightmarish visions. At this point, your spirit will seek another body through reincarnation. Life will begin anew. This discussion between Oscar and Alex sets the tone for the rest of the film. The journey is about to begin.
When Oscar meets his friend, Victor, at the bar to carry out the deal, it soon becomes clear that Oscar has been set up. Cops swarm the place searching for Oscar, as he hides in a bathroom stall, flushing the narcotics. A single shot rings out. Oscar looks down to find a gaping hole in his chest. He slowly dies, and his soul immediately exits his body, floating ever so slowly through the ceiling. We begin to soar with Oscar, to fly into the night, looking down and observing his loved ones during the aftermath of his death. He watches as his sister, Linda finds out about his death. It crushes her. She becomes detached and numb to the reality of the situation. She curses Victor, who gave her brother over to the cops, telling the young man to do himself a favor and commit suicide. Meanwhile, Linda finds some form of comfort with Alex. Oscar can do nothing. He observes from afar, helpless. We are then taken back in time, years before Oscar’s death. We witness the terrible tragedy that ripped Oscar’s family apart, how he and his sister were separated and taken to different foster homes, and how he made a promise to Linda at a young age that he would never leave her. At last, we are brought back to the present. Oscar will visit with his sister once more before he crosses over into the Void – into the next life, whatever that may be.
In allowing the audience to join Oscar on his journey, seeing everything from his POV, Gaspar Noe takes us on an ethereal trip that is both transcendent and horrifying. It is wholly unpredictable. Anything is possible. Enter the Void is not for everyone. It requires a great deal of patience. I cannot stress this enough. Noe’s style is deliberately paced, and not suited for those with short attention spans. Also, there is material here that will repulse many. The semi-incestuous nature of Oscar and Linda’s relationship will disturb some audiences, as well as the graphic, unsimulated sexuality in a few sequences. However, for those of us who are brave, who long for new cinematic adventures that take us to new heights – more specifically, for those of us who know what we are getting in to – Enter the Void can be quite rewarding, provided that you are in the right mood.
I must warn you that Gaspar Noe’s fondness for strobe effects is on full display throughout Enter the Void. The opening credits alone are seizure inducing, loud, and aggressive. If you suffer from epilepsy or anxiety disorder, this is not the film for you. Please look elsewhere.