Friday, September 11, 2009


(France, 2009, 155 minutes)
Written by: Gaspar Noé
Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy

Gaspar Noé has produced only three features in eleven years, but he certainly labours to make each one memorable. His films don’t so much aspire to entertain the viewer as they do to pummel him/her into feeling something—anything--usually revulsion...

Considering the steady dump of impersonal hackwork in theatres on any given weekend, this commands a certain amount of respect. But I’ve long suspected that his fly-on-the-wall nihilism is a bit of a stunt, evidenced by the countdown clock to an impending bit of nauseating incestuous businesses in “I Stand Alone”, to the excruciating, single-take, nine-minute long rape of Monica Belluci in “Irreversible”. The Buenos Aries-born provocateur seems to be the answer to John Water’s lament for the lack of “showmanship” on the art house circuit. Think William Castle with indie cred.

With “Enter The Void”, Noé moves into Roger Corman territory circa “The Trip” by painstakingly simulating a drug experience (presumably one of his own) via one of the more avant-garde applications of CG. He opens with a neon sign flashing “Enter”, and then pulls back to the POV of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown—heard more than seen), a 20-something loser holed up in a Tokyo flat, bidding goodbye to his younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and then kicking back with a pipe and some primo DMT. From his POV, lights dim, colours swirl, and ceiling becomes alive with flowering fractals and writhing tentacles of light. It’s a long way from stock footage from AIP’s “The Terror” and “The Unearthly”. It also goes on for a very long time I must say—and got me wondering, as a non-drug user: wouldn’t it be something if cinema could evolve to simulate the sensory stimulation of chemical substances without the risk to one’s body and mind? And then I thought: why bother? Getting high looks an awful lot like the trip through V’Ger in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, and I’ve got that on DVD.

Oscar’s reverie is interrupted for a drug deal which takes him to the nearby sh*thole bar “The Void”. His bohemian painter pal Alex (Cyril Roy) warns that narcotics are dangerous (he’s not above using them, just not selling them) and remains outside. Inside, Oscar is double-crossed by his client Victor (because Oscar’s been sleeping with his cougar mom), and a sudden police raid climaxes in his being shot to death in the washroom. Oskar’s consciousness lives on, however, and his spirit floats from his body, taking in the crime scene, Alex’s panic, and flies to the sleazy club where Linda slums as a dancer (and a bit more).

Oscar watches passively from the afterlife for the remainder of the film’s ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE MINUTE running time, as the fallout of his death accelerates Linda’s and Alex’s respective downward spirals. The film’s second act, if there indeed is such a structure, shifts the focus to the third person, from just behind Oscar’s head and right shoulder, as he revisits his sister’s birth, his parent’s amorous activities and his Primal Scene moment, and the truly horrifying collision with an 18-wheeler that turns mom and dad into hamburger meat and leaves the children orphaned, and eventually, separated into foster homes.

With the third act, Noé returns to Oscar’s disembodied POV and the visuals get even more surreal: a model city of Tokyo becomes a dream palace where past, present, and presumably future converge, Oscar bears witness to Alex’s degeneration into homelessness, and watches his sister’s abortion of her boss’s love child (and in case you weren’t sickened enough, floats closer to an eyeball-searing inspection of the bloody fetus—take that Mr. Castle, with your Percept-O and Coward’s Corner!). Gradually, Linda and Alex overcome their poor lifestyle decisions and come together as lovers, unknowingly presenting Oscar a chance at potential rebirth…

Initially, Oscar has to physically fly from location to location, but eventually, discovers a way to travel via light sources (into the light bulb in his apartment, out the table lamp in Linda’s strip bar), but towards the end of the film, he seems to be able to travel at random (and absurdly so—he flies into a burning stove element in Linda’s apartment and then out of her navel in the abortion clinic!).

And Oscar is certainly a randy bit of ectoplasm, stopping to linger whenever possible on sexual acts from both internal and external POVs, occasionally entering the heads of various persons in the throes of eros to experience their sensation (including what it’s like to do his own sister…eww…) and into that same sister’s private parts to witness… well, you fill in the blank here.

Buddy Alex is a disciple of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, which Oscar had only perused before his death, and this writer has not read at all (I’ve got a copy that came in a gift pack with some hot sauce). Presumably, there are parallels between the book and Noé’s structure and imagery that might resonate to those in-the-know.

Sure, it’s easy to be blithe towards a film like this, given its excessive running time and epic forays into the worst examples of directorial self-indulgence. But Noé is clearly a talented filmmaker with a desire to push and expand his chosen medium, and the choreography of camera, cast, locations, and post-production enhancements required to pull of such an illusion is nothing short of masterful. For all its in-your-face horror, “Irreversible”s structure worked backwards, cleverly, so that the final scenes of marital bliss were emotionally devastating given the viewer’s advance knowledge of the leads’ doomed fates. I felt nothing with Oscar’s possible reincarnation…only the fear of what I might see should his spirit become disembodied again and follow someone into the bathroom. Maybe tonight I’ll finally open The Tibetan Book Of The Dead and see if it all connects—if not, I’ll pass on the DMT, thanks, and take my chances with the hot sauce…

©Robert J. Lewis 2009