A lot of film reviews toss around the promise that a certain film is “like nothing you’ve ever seen.” It’s an almost inherently deceitful statement; film, like all forms of art, is about influence and reinterpretation, so by default, almost everything has been done before in some way, shape or form. Everything builds on what came before it. But on a more reasonable level, there are films that are truly original, actually presenting a new spectacle that we have not yet witnessed on screen. Enter the Void, the newest film from French director/moral provocateur Gaspar Noé, is one such film.
The film’s plot is relatively thin, because it isn’t so much about story as it is about experience. It centers on a young man in Tokyo named Oscar, a psychedelic drug junkie and sometimes dealer living with his younger sister Linda. The two have made a pact to always watch out for each other after a childhood tragedy that took both of their parents; now she works at a strip club while he meanders around Tokyo with friend Alex, who is encouraging him to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead to aid in his DMT experiences. That’s about as much exposition as we get.
The book (which the film is loosely based upon) tells how a person’s soul leaves their body upon death, and sees their own life as a highlight reel, then decides to choose how to be reincarnated. Shortly after this is explained, Oscar finds himself shot to death (this is not a spoiler), and thus his spirit embarks on a journey much like the one described in the book.
All of this happens relatively fast, leave the rest of the film’s 140 minute running time to follow the journey Oscar’s spirit takes, flashing back through important or traumatizing memories and eventually searching for a way to be reborn. It is not the story that matters as much as the experience and the feelings that it evokes. The way Oscar links his memories to one another builds up why he is the way he is, and explains the relationship him and his sister share. The quest to find another life is a result of these feelings.
Noé’s direction ends up being what truly saves it from being another half-assed stoner film. The entire film is presented in the first person, so that everything Oscar experiences the audience sees firsthand. His eyes are our eyes. Noé also paints the entire city is vibrant, pulsing lights. The camera swirls around, sometimes flying high above the Tokyo streets at night, other times sneaking its way into small, intimate places to watch life go on. The film itself feels like a trip, but while avoiding the classic pitfalls of hazy camera and zoned out dialogue.
Enter the Void works the way it does because it has such a rhythm to it, a heartbeat that propels it forward so that even when we aren’t completely sure what is happening, we are still drawn in and interested. There are a few moments when the film seems to drag on for a bit too long, but it is soon rescued by interesting camera work or sweeping images to excite the eyes and the mind.
As a word of warning, Enter the Void, like all of Noé’s work, is pretty graphic in nature. This is a film about people who live ugly lives, so it is no surprise that it is filmed with graphic violence and sex. While the sex and nudity are rampant, it is nothing compared to the uproar sparked by Noé’s last film, the Memento-style backwards drama Irreversible, remembered mostly for its painfully long, shockingly close rape scene. The sex in Enter the Void isn’t nearly as troubling, rather, it’s simply presented as a fact of life. It is something that happens to everyone, and thus, Noé regards it with no special significance.
Enter the Void is not easy always easy viewing. It is a challenging film, one you may not even end up liking, but certainly one unlike anything you have seen before. So if you’re ready for something new, turn it on, shut the lights off, and get ready for one hell of a trip.
*Note: Enter the Void is available now On Demand through IFC*
Bold, beautiful and sometimes brutal, Enter the Void is a challenge that adventurous movie watchers may find quite rewarding: B+