I hesitate to write about any film by Gaspar Noe for fear that someone might actually watch it and never forgive me for introducing them to the experience. There’s much to critique about Noe’s work, particularly his unflinching representations of sex, violence, and, at times, combination of the two. However, these are also symptoms of his daring willingness to experiment with the medium of film in ways few other, if any, filmmakers are doing. His latest film, Enter the Void, makes some interesting uses of point of view and perspective while providing another take on or view of the afterlife.
Enter the Void follows Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young drug dealer living in Tokyo. When a drug deal goes bad, he is killed by the police. As he dies, his soul leaves his body and hovers above and around Tokyo, observing the lives of those left behind, particularly his sister Linda (the frequently scantily clad Paz de la Huerta), his friend Alex (Cyril Roy), and Victor (Olly Alexander), the other kid in the busted drug deal. At the same time, he is able to travel back into his childhood to reflect on key experiences, particularly the death of his parents and the eventual separation from his sister (the two siblings were placed in separate foster homes until they reunited with one another as young adults in Tokyo).
This is about the extent of the events in the film. However, Noe’s strict use of first person point of view makes these rather mundane goings on even more interesting. We realize that we literally inhabit Oscar’s perspective for the first 30 minutes when the screen flickers as Oscar blinks. When he is exasperated with his sister, the screen goes darker for just a bit longer. Before going out to meet Victor, Oscar smokes some hallucinogenic drugs and begins to trip. The screen gradually fills with amorphous, beautiful, threatening, colorful images. I’ve never taken hallucinogens, but (much to the moralists chagrin) this certainly makes them seem appealing. The first person point of view combined with these wickedly cool, trippy images gives the films an interesting 3D effect without requiring the viewer to wear glasses. They also made me wish that I was watching the film on a much larger screen. After Oscar dies, Noe’s camerawork vacillates between that strict first person point of view and one slightly detached from it as he moves the camera either directly or slightly behind Oscar’s head. We frequently return to that first person perspective when Noe seemingly rams the camera lens into the back of Oscar’s head. The screen goes dark for a second and then we re-emerge, seeing what Oscar’s spirit sees.
To move from place to place across Tokyo, Oscar’s spirit soars above the city, providing us with a bird’s eye view. However, as this is his only means of transportation, what is initially a rapturous bit of camerawork becomes a boring repetition. Far more rewarding are the shots in which Oscar settles down in one location, giving us a glimpse into a fantastical Tokyo that seems to be a mixture of the real and dream worlds.
The film draws its spiritual themes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which describes and guides individuals through life after death…or from one consciousness to the next. As such, Oscar becomes something like one of the ghosts in Biutiful although he seems to linger a bit longer before moving on. His ability to reflect on the loss of his parents and his childhood relationship with his sister provides interesting perspectives on both his interactions with Linda as a young adult and her emotions and actions after he dies.
Few filmmakers have come to demand an almost steely reserve when settling into watching their films quite like Noe. Enter the Void does not fail to deliver on the sensational. Yet the ways in which he juxtaposes these disturbing images and scenes with quiet moments of intimacy make it difficult for us to simply dismiss them as exploitative or pornographic. When Linda and Alex finally have sex with one another, Noe gives us, for lack of a better description, an internal point of view which is quite unsettling. Yet he then manages to make it a thing of beauty within only a few seconds.
Oscar and Linda’s relationship borders on the incestuous. As young adults they seem a little too physically close for comfort, yet Noe eases this discomfort by reminding us of their closeness as children and the traumatic experience they shared of losing their parents in a graphically portrayed car wreck. As young adults, Oscar and Linda need each other, but they need so much more and seem to mistake their ability to provide that for one another.
We can also question the implications of the film’s title. It is, primarily, the name of the bar where Oscar dies, yet it is the place where he transitions from this life to the next. There’s nothing optimistic or pessimistic about this space. It just is. However, the conclusion of the film, like Biutiful, hints that something lies beyond this limbo as well. For Oscar it is a re-birth…a re-incarnation…but to or from whom is open for interpretation.
Noe avoids the extreme, graphic violence characteristic of his previous film, Irreversible, and thankfully so. However, like that earlier film, Enter the Void features frank depictions of sex which, towards the end, do wander into the pornographic. Yet even these offensive elements cannot distract from what are two moving films. Love or hate Noe or his films, few filmmakers provide such unique, and occasionally rewarding, viewing experiences.
Enter the Void (161 mins.) is unrated but contains graphic images of drug use, sex, and violence. It is available on DVD and streaming from Netflix.