Enter the Void (2009)
Directed by Gasper Noe
Written by Gasper Noe & Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cinematography by Benoit Debie
Editing by Gasper Noe, Marc Boucrot & Jerome Pesnel
We follow the lives of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) a drug dealer, and his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper both currently living in Tokyo. Their parents had died in a car accident when both siblings were only infants. They make a blood pact to stay together forever. Oscar is reading a Tibetan book about death and reincarnation. When Oscar soon dies we take on the perspective of his spirit floating through the experiences of his friends and his enemies as well as inhabiting his memories.
How I entered the Void
Enter the Void is probably the definition of a film that resembles you personally tripping on acid. Check out the trailer. It’s a dead giveaway. I watched this film because it was recommended to me and I saw it on the top of some movie lists. This is my first Gasper Noe, although I don’t think I’ll be visiting his work again. I wished I had read the synopsis before trying it. I really don’t believe in all that reincarnation nonsense, but I won’t make my review about my religious and philosophical beliefs. I should have known thirty minutes in that this would not be my kind of movie. Without being small minded here, I usually (and I say usually mind you) don’t care to experience the world through a junkie’s eyes. I’ll explain why later.
I’m writing this review with no interest more than to help you decide if it’s right or not for you. Many people love this film and it’s one of their favorites. I don’t intend to spend a lot of time on it, since the strong suit of the film is mostly it’s surpassing visuals. I doubt you would prefer me to spend paragraph after paragraph describing all the brilliant colors and constant acid inducing intricacies. That’s fun to watch but not to read.
The philosophy that all life is art
This is an artsy flick. Gasper Noe is the kind of director who believes in telling a story unfiltered and with only brutal honesty at his focus. He’ll show you every detail of day to day life’s activities. He particularly focuses on the personal experiences that you rarely get to see. Expect to see every angle of your life, especially private or ugly ones. So he explores a lot of well known experiences but through a first person perspective. This includes conversations with friends, going to clubs, getting into a car accident, getting high, sudden flashes of memories, what it’s like to actually die, having lots and lots sex, drug dealing, witnessing death, and even being born. Personally I never cared for this type of movie making philosophy that if you make your film about everything, it has greater meaning. I believe that subject matter about something specific only to you personally, is how we get somewhere we’ve never been before.
A Cinematic Experience that’s never been seen
There’s no one who will debate that the cinematography is the film’s strongest feature. This type of camera work, mixed with CGI was impossible in times past without today’s modern technology. The camera is always moving, even if very subtly. It reminded me of what it would feel like to float around like a goldfish that wasn’t swimming. When a phone call is made, you might see one person call. Then the camera leaves the building from above through the wall passing building after building until you get to the person on the other end of the line after about 30 seconds of travel. The desired effect of this shooting method is to make the whole entire film almost feel like one continuous shot. The exception to this is sudden interruptions of memories in which the last frame strongly resembles the interjecting scenario. Some people have noted that the acting isn’t the greatest at times, but bearing in mind that a lot of these scenes have to be one very long camera shot makes performances much harder to pull off.
The camera goes everywhere, jumping through time and location without limitations. At one point the perspective even goes to the sky witnessing the buildings from above until an airplane actually flies straight into the camera. We are then suddenly in it upon impact. The film starts out in the perspective of Oscar. It’s very realistic. The camera will flicker to mock blinking, and blur when disoriented. As the film synopsis gives away he dies. There are many moments that resemble an acid trip that connect scene after scene. However, as I said the camera is almost always moving, really selling that feel that other than the many flash backs and time jumps you are witnessing everything is in one shot.
Me going off about less interesting characters again
A very simple reason why I don’t care for Enter the Void is yet again the depth of the subjects being observed. I’m not a druggie, and I don’t necessarily dislike people who are. The thing that I’ve commonly noticed is that most people who take drugs originally did so because they were bored with their lives. If they’re not interested with their own story, then why should I be?
Now it’s one thing if the individual themselves is a more complicated one than their surroundings. People who challenge themselves often and bore easily, are most likely very intelligent and very interesting to learn about. Enter the Void’s characters didn’t strike me as those kind of people, and I’m more likely to believe that people who have no life interests without drugs are often not complicated people. Again, I’m not insulting those who struggle with addictions nor am I slapping them into a category of lesser intelligence. There are a lot of brilliantly interesting people who get involved with drugs. Basically all I’m saying is if a film is primarily a character study, then it should come as no surprise that I want to see some unusual and complex characters.
Enter the Void reminded me of a very slowly paced, more tastefully shot Strange Days. Yes, it’s world is like that film or perhaps Go, maybe Trainspotting. I guess I’m just only comparing those movies because it follows druggies and electronic rave punks. The film also bears a strong tone resemblance to Requiem for a Dream. In fact, I see a very similar objective in subject matter to Darren Aronofsky. Both directors enjoy a sort of a first hand experience in going to the darkest places they can think of. I’ve witnessed Mr. Aronofsky actually saying this before as well. Actually the best film combination I could sum up Gasper Noe’s film to, would be Strange Day’s setting with Requiem for a Dream’s hopeless horror, and the scenes are all bridged by the psychedelic imagery of The Fountain.
Types of Voids
Now, personally, I also like to go to those dark places but with a large exception. If I’m going to go somewhere horrible, I think it far more effective to show the light inside a character before you destroy them or their hope. Doing so gives your viewer a real reason to care. You also are contrasting the taste the film imposes with seemingly contradictory emotions. That’s how you diversify the senses and give us a frame of reference. I love dark films, but there are only certain ones I love that are only and nothing but sheer evil. Now Enter the Void will leave you with a feeling at times that life is meaningless, and on it’s last leg it tries it show it as disturbingly haunting yet somehow wonderful. However it wasn’t until two hours in that I felt anything for the film. It was during the end of an emotional outburst that Linda has where she seems to have been pushed to her limits. After this, the film decides to become as estranged, and morally debased as possible with deliberate intent.
Is there meaning even within the void?
I am noticing these days that the visuals in film today are constantly pushing the envelope. What I am seeing less of are movies with the real depth to back them up. I would really like to believe there is some meaning behind Enter the Void. I really would, but I already know that life can be ugly. Why not tell it through a lead that’s wonderful, who doesn’t know that?
My ratings always reflect my personal enjoyment of a film, not the overall quality of it. I always say too that your level of appreciation for a film often has nothing to do with how well done or even whether it’s good or bad. It very much also reflects what preferable mood you feel like experiencing, as well as where you are in the scheme of your life. Also, sometimes a film isn’t intended to be enjoyed at all, but it’s themes are so important that it resonates with you. With a title like Enter the Void, you will be jumping into an abyss of a increasingly degenerated lifestyle; one that has no meaning. It’s a place where you feel that no one loves you, and sometimes you’re right.
There are some who will relate with this film deeply. People everywhere are encountering all time lows and this film could be very special for the right person at the right time. It has created enough buzz in which that is definitely the case. I, however, prefer my artsy ugliness with a wider spectrum of character. Even brutal every day life is like that. It’s never just one color. Gasper Noe’s film makes a last minute change in tone to almost suggest that isn’t the strangeness of life better than nothing at all? Personally I’d say that life has meaning, but no matter where you come from, you’re the only one who can put it into the embodiment that is you.