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Enter the Void (2010)

February 2, 2011

7/10 Black Light Heavens

If Kubrick was a Japanese meth freak…

Enter the Void is about an American drug pusher in Tokyo who gets shot and killed when a deal turns out to be a setup. So the lights go out, his soul leaves his body, and he begins traveling through his troubled past from infancy through adulthood, watching over his friends and family in the present as they cope with his death, and searching for some kind of reincarnation in the future.

It’s hard to say if this is Gaspar Noe’s best movie so far because when it comes to Irreversible and I Stand Alone, it’s hard to say whether they were even good or bad to begin with. But the wonderful difference that separates Noe’s third effort here from his first two is that this is the only one of the bunch I can actually recommend to folks without fear of traumatizing anyone for life or being blacklisted as the resident sick fuck around the blogosphere. What a weight off that is.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here ’cause that doesn’t mean this movie’s for everyone either. It’s quite bizarre, if it had an MPAA rating it would make for an easy NC-17, and there’s still a couple teeth-grinding scenes here that will put you on edge, shock you silly and leave a gnarly taste in your mouth. Granted, this is like sitting through a Care Bears marathon in comparison to the boundaries that Noe is used to pushing, but compared to every other director who isn’t into nine-minute rape scenes, it’s a downer, it’s stuff you’ll probably just want to watch by yourself rather than risk making eye contact with the person next to you who just moved to the other end of the couch, and it’s simply some upsetting, in-your-face shit. Not all of it, just some of it, but I was close to knocking this down to a 6 several times because of it.

Then again, all this hinting is usually what gets people interested to check out Noe’s work for themselves, so I’ll just shut up now. All I’ll say is this: you might regret it in the long run, but it’s really something to see.

So Noe’s a crazy dude, there’s no arguing that, but he’s also pretty brilliant behind the camera. I love the way he films this like it’s one continuous shot from beginning to end thanks to all his invisible cuts that make the plot transition seamlessly from one scene to the next until the screen cuts to black two-and-a-half hours later. It’s just so painstakingly structured in a way you never see in movies and as a viewer it creates this feeling that it’s not just Noe’s style on display, but that he is genuinely invested in the story he’s sharing and how it’s meant to be received. And then there’s Tokyo, this sea of flashing neon against endless night that’s enough to give the wrong person epilepsy and looks like a dream just the way it is. It’s like the underbelly of everything you didn’t see in Lost in Translation, and while it isn’t until the last 15 minutes or so that we finally see the city at its most vibrant, Tokyo is one hell of a setting for a movie.

Folks, this is Noe’s 2001. Not to say that it’s on the same level as Kubrick’s masterpiece by any means, but once you see it, you’ll get it. Our dealer’s first trip looks like it was taken right from Bowman’s journey through the mysteries of the universe, there’s extreme close-ups on light bulbs that look suspiciously similar to Hal, Noe’s afterlife is set in a hotel room that shouldn’t exist, you’ve got grown men reborn as infants, and there’s even a reference to drug’s effects as “the ultimate trip”. Really happy I just re-watched 2001 for the first time in ages and have it fresh in my mind, but it’s all right there and it’s all freakin’ gorgeous. From the gamut of colors that never let up to Thomas Bangalter’s score that sounds like a jam session with Satan on didgeridoo and Carl Sagan on electric piano organ, it’s as fitting a tribute as any that Noe could have created for the movie that changed his life.

Alright, so Noe is arguably at the top of his game here as director, and that’s good business. But then there’s his script, and, oh, how I wish it were good enough to warrant another five paragraphs of praise.

It’s one of those situations where it seems like Noe had all these amazing things he wanted to with the camera that could put all these cool Kubrick-ian ideas he had to good use and so he wrote something that would let him do it. In its defense, it is very original, the concept of reincarnation makes for an awesome blank slate and Noe does a great job of bringing it all full circle with each new step, and I really dig the way it’s put together so that we experience the length of our protagonist’s life and afterlife through his eyes as it flashes before him. But when push comes to shove, the characters, the dialogue and what they’re going through ultimately feel like a means to an end. And that sucks. I wish I had a connection to these people.

There’s newcomer Nathaniel Brown as our small-time dopeman, Oscar, whose face we only get to see maybe twice thanks to the way Noe films him like it’s the feature-length version of “Smack My Bitch Up”. And he’s fine, but he’s just there to move things along. Then there’s Paz de la Huerta as Oscar’s stripper sister, Linda, and in true Paz de la Huerta fashion, you can count on her to be bare-ass for half the effing movie. I know she’s a stripper and everything, but it’s actually pretty ridiculous how often she’s in her birthday suit here, like before each scene she’d suggest to Noe that it might be better if her boobs were out again and Noe would be all for it. Doesn’t hurt her character or anything because either way she’s about as memorable as her brother, but I don’t know, just seemed unnecessary outside of playing up all the ambiguously incestuous undertones.

Although newcomer Cyril Roy is pretty solid as Oscar’s best friend, Alex. Then again, I’ve got a friend from Naples who might as well be this guy’s doppelganger and my recurring thought that “This guy is doing one hell of a Marco impression!” may very well be swaying my views.

But the fact of the matter is that if Noe’s substance was as good as his style, Enter the Void would without a doubt have been one of the better movies of last year. It really is an amazing experience to soak in, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see this on a big screen while tripping balls (not that I’d recommend that ever), and in its own little way, it really is “the ultimate trip”. All the same, the pacing would have been far less meandering and far less noticeable if the script hadn’t been so reliant on the camera. Still the most accessible place to discover Noe, and let me tell ya’, it is some wacko shit to discover.

Consider yourself warned.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011 7:38 am

    yeah I think at some stage ill give this a go. visually it kind of looks like being inside Oogie Boogie from the Nightmare Before Christmas’ head.
    you had me at ‘everything you didn’t see in Lost in Translation’. i could only dislike that movie more if it had a Vince Vaughn cameo.

    • February 2, 2011 10:17 am

      hahahahaha. it’s totally like being inside Oogie Boogie! wish I’d thought of that one.

      and, yeah, it’s a seriuosly far cry from Lost in Translation. definitely a good note for yout to start off with.

  2. February 2, 2011 3:54 pm

    So weird, I literally just learned of this film minutes ago over at 366 Weird movies. They’ve given it a nomination for the weirdest film of 2010. Then I check in here and VOILA! A review for the film! I suspect this will be right up my alley! I’m really excited to see this one!

    • February 2, 2011 4:05 pm

      Crazy! Yeah, it just went up on Netflix Instant a week or so ago and I’ve been chomping at the bit to give it a watch. Very strange indeed, but it’s a trip alright. Hope you dig it and let me know what you think.

  3. February 13, 2011 6:50 pm

    The script not only includes dialogue but also structure. I wrote a couple thousand words about the structure of the film, and none about the dialogue, so you can see that I value the script. I don’t think the dialogue matters at all. It is as important as the way the people walk, which is to say – it should be true to their characters, but that’s all that it can be unless it’s a mere gimmick. If it were a means to an end I think it would be a shame, but I think it’s a means to no end, which I think is great. It’s simply human texture rather than imposed gimmickry. Compare this to Inception’s dialogue, which is imposed gimmickry, and maybe you’ll learn to love the banality of everyday conversation.

    I think the Tibetan Book of the Dead is, as you say, the vessel for the film’s structure, but it becoming the film’s structure also makes sense for Oscar’s character, as the latter part of the film is merely his dream, and dreams are influenced greatly by what one recently experiences in life. I don’t see any reason to believe that the film itself is following the plot of the book, as the ending of the film directly contradicts the book – the film is inside his brain, nothing ever changes, and the loose structure gives Noé some room to choose elements which fit within the possibilities of what his brain would think of, but there’s nothing from the Tibetan Book of the Dead that says that any particular event that happens in the film must happen. It’s almost entirely irrelevant to the actual content, it simply provides an exterior structure which you don’t even need to remember. In Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle they are going to White Castle, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with what goes on inside that premise. Same with this film. The substance, that which he actually chooses to include on this wild journey, I think is very substantial. I wrote about the film, maybe it’ll convince you! Maybe on second viewing you’ll get wrapped up in the aesthetic and the contextual wonder of the film, I don’t know. Worth a try. More is always better!

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