This highly immersive film, the most ambitious and provocative to date by filmmaker Gaspar Noe, proves that truly bold, risk-taking, precedent-setting cinema is still possible. Its subject? Nothing less than the journey of the human soul after death, as elucidated in the TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD and presented here as the ultimate acid trip.
ENTER THE VOID (completed in late 2009 but not released until 2010) is the long-awaited third feature by Gaspar Noe, following I STAND ALONE (1998) and IRREVERSIBLE (2002). Those films demonstrated a formidable command of the medium and a love of shock, two things very much in evidence in ENTER THE VOID.
Noe pulls off something that filmmakers from Orson Welles to Francis Ford Coppola have attempted over the years but never accomplished: a film lensed entirely from a single person’s POV. This was done at least once before, in director/star Robert Montgomery’s 1947 film noir LADY IN THE LAKE. Noe claims the inspiration for ENTER THE VOID came from viewing Montgomery’s film while high on drugs, which I fully believe.
Oscar is a young Tokyo based drug dealer who’s been reading the TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD. One night, after dipping into his own drug supply and hallucinating (thus setting the overall tone), Oscar heads for a club called The Void. It turns out he’s been set up by a friend, who has called the police on Oscar. As the cops burst into the club Oscar locks himself in The Void’s tiny bathroom and frantically attempts to flush his drug stash-but then he’s suddenly shot and killed. Before dying Oscar thinks about his sister, who is also living in Tokyo and working as a stripper/prostitute.
Leaving his physical body slumped in the bathroom, Oscar’s soul drifts off to where his sis is having sex with a john. After this she receives a call on her cell phone informing her that her brother has died.
From there Oscar takes a trip back through his brief life, marked by a car accident that claimed the lives of his parents years earlier during a family vacation in Tokyo. Since then Oscar and his sister have stayed put, vowing never to leave each other.
Back in the present Oscar’s soul drifts around Tokyo, soaring through the air and checking in on the activities of his sister—who among other things becomes pregnant and has an abortion. Oscar’s soul also spends time in a hallucinatory hotel where everyone is having torrid sex before coming to a final rest in the belly of his sister. He does so just as she’s getting impregnated once again, thus providing an ideal vessel for his reincarnation.
To get the full effect of this film’s amazing audio-visual barrage you simply must experience it on a big screen. But if you do so be prepared for a lot of inappropriate laugher, as there’s really no other way to react to (for instance) a vagina’s-eye view of a penis shooting jizz at us. To Noe’s credit, he’s not afraid of looking stupid.
He’s also not especially concerned about boring his audience with uneventful shots that drag on for several minutes and a punishing 161-minute running time. Much of the film has a near-hypnotic flow, but seemingly every time one is tempted to surrender to it Noe abruptly snaps us out of our trance with something shocking and horrific (i.e. numerous replays of the violent car crash that took the lives of the protagonist’s parents and a close-up view of an aborted fetus).
This is one of the trippiest movies of all time. It begins with an elaborate CGI acid trip and continues in that vein throughout, with swirling, gliding camerawork (operated by Noe himself) and bright, eye-burning colors that tend to strobe. The multi-layered soundtrack further enhances the druggy vibe, and the whole thing takes place almost entirely amid the glittery lightscape of nocturnal Tokyo, a setting as psychedelic as any acid trip.
It’s a good thing the film is so technically grounded, as the human element is somewhat lacking (the protagonist being essentially a nonentity) and the acting quite poor. Yet from a pure filmmaking standpoint the film is a mind-boggling achievement. For all its annoyances there is truly nothing else like ENTER THE VOID.
ENTER THE VOID
Fidelite Films/Wild Bunch/BUF
Director: Gaspar Noe
Producers: Pierre Buffin, Olivier Delbosc, Vincent Maraval, Marc Missonnier, Gaspar Noe
Screenplay: Gaspar Noe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cinematography: Benoit Debie
Editing: Marc Boucrot, Gaspar Noe
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander, Masato Tanno, Ed Spear, Emily Alyn Lind, Jesse Kuhn