Enter the Void
Doggedly unconventional French auteur
Gaspar Noé has never been one to pander to the mainstream, and his
previous films have engendered controversy and polarised audiences in a
manner that has, on occasion, reached fever pitch.
Noé’s previous film Irreversible
(2002) was described by Roger Ebert as ‘so violent and cruel most people
will be unable to watch it’ and became infamous for its sequences of
sheer brutality, which included a 9-minute rape scene - during the
screening of the film I attended at the Valhalla in Sydney at least half
the audience walked out during this scene, one man disgustedly uttering
the words ‘this is sick’ as he did so. Noé’s penchant for laying bare
the ugliness and futility of existence, as he seems to see it, also
manifests itself in some truly appalling dialogue being spouted from the
mouths of his frequently grotesque filmic creations, from the homophobic
vitriol of Irreversible to a not-atypical exchange in I Stand
Alone in which the lead character informs the pregnant woman he has
just viciously and repeatedly punched in the stomach that he has ‘turned
her baby into hamburger meat.’
His latest film is Enter the Void,
an intensely personal pet project a number of years in the making, and
once more Noé’s wilful, seemingly deep-seated psychic need to sow
distemper and unease amongst the filmgoing masses is prominently on
display. The end result has been called everything from stunning to
soporific, and, for my money, manages simultaneously to be both. At
almost two and a half hours it is overlong, alternately tedious and
sublime, a radiant, hypnotic, psychedelic cornucopia of
shifting-consciousness imagery and mumbled dialogue that follows the out
of body experiences of a small time Tokyo drug dealer in the hours
following his death.
Using complicated crane shots, lavish CGI
and the strobe and white light effects so beloved of its director,
Enter the Void conjures up a first-person depiction of a soul’s
immediate post-life journey in which delirium and disorientation
co-mingle in a kaleidoscopic pot pourri of magic mushroom
inspired imagery. We follow the newly-deceased Oscar as he floats about
in the air of above Tokyo’s streets, melds his perspective with that of
his sister, spies on family and friends and revisits moments from his
own past, including his own birth, no less.
In typical Noé fashion nothing is spared
the viewer’s attention; a blood-smeared aborted foetus rests on a kidney
dish, Oscar’s soul dwells momentarily inside his own sister’s vagina
as she has sex with one of his friends, and so on. It is this
juvenile propensity towards needing to be shocking for its own sake that
keeps Enter the Void from being the sublime, moving and potent
dissection of life after life that it could have been, in addition to a
number of sequences that border on the pretentious and, as mentioned,
its exorbitant running time.
The film certainly had its fans: The
Guardian awarded it five out of five stars and many other reviewers
commented favourably on its visceral and hallucinatory visual sense.
Ultimately however this is one high-concept neon nightmare that fails to
satisfy either filmically or philosophically.
None. The local edition also features the
137-minute cut only, in contrast with most overseas releases which
feature either the extended 161-minute (NTSC) cut, or both versions of
the film on one disc.