By: Addison Wylie
When Enter The Void ended and the theatre lights faded up, the older man sitting behind me let out a relieved “wow..” He then followed it up by saying “I sure haven’t seen a movie quite like that before.” It’s an understatement to say that his choice of words speaks volumes. He’s right. Enter the Void is unlike anything you’ve seen before. The visuals are beaming with creative and the way Director Gaspar Noé is able to project his vision is amazing. That said, the visuals may be close to perfection but the movie is not.
Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown, is a loner, drug dealing junkie in the big metropolis of Tokyo, Japan. However, he’s not entirely alone. He keeps a close eye over his sister Linda, played by Paz de la Huerta, and he occasionally hangs out with his friend Alex, played by Cyril Roy. The two aren’t exactly keen on Oscar making a living by selling drugs. While hanging out, Alex lends Oscar a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Full of surreal ideas and images, Oscar is intrigued but is more focused on big sales and big highs. One night, while delivering drugs to his other friend Victor, played by Olly Alexander, Oscar is startled to see cops invade the secretive meeting. Oscar bolts to a nearby bathroom to flush the drugs when suddenly Oscar’s chest explodes. Once Oscar realizes that he’s been shot, his body hits the floor and he blacks out. While in a doped up state and thinking of Alex’s book, Oscar’s body levitates out of his dead carcass. The audience then follows Oscar as he watches over his friends and Linda and observes chaos taking place. While watching the events unfold, Alex pieces together how exactly his trip in the afterlife will conclude.
Whether audiences enjoy Noé’s film or loathe it, I think both parties can agree the film is consistent in its narrative. We’re always sticking close to Oscar. The images could be presented in a first-person view or the audience may be positioned slightly behind the lead character but we’re always seeing what he sees. Not once does Noé break away from this method of storytelling. The camera work mixed with flawless, subtle editing is an example of virtuosos at work. Cinematographer and editor Benoît Debie, as well as Noé editing the piece too, execute a variety of emotions through their tools. When Oscar is in the bathroom panicking, we’re panicking with him because of that first-person frantic perspective. When Oscar is tripping out on DMT, the effects are spliced in with reality so well, we find ourselves second guessing attributes in the frame. It’s an example of confident filmmaking but the direction is also counter-productive.
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It may be important to observe life through Oscar’s eyes but Noé insists we stick with him long after he’s died. It’s understandable why the movie takes this turn. Noé wants to show us what Oscar sees and feels as a ghost and how he travels from place to place. The scenes that involve Oscar floating around Tokyo and how they relate to the Tibetan Book of the Dead start off as interesting but the script has a hard time transitioning and it feels as if Noé is overcompensating by padding the film for no reason. This whole movie could’ve been a lot shorter but Noé wants to prolong every single aspect. For instance, when Oscar travels to different locations, his flight is sped up but it still takes him a good chunk of time to get to where he needs to go. Because the audience is in Oscar’s shoes, we travel with him every single time he flies through the air or through different elements such as fire. The effects are electrifying at first but overstay their welcome over time. After the fifth strobing scene of Oscar travelling through an open flame, I just wanted the movie to move on. That said, it also feels as if Noé gets lost within his own style. He’s unaware of the line that separates imagery from being gritty and involving to just being plain silly and juvenile. The scenes that involve Oscar’s ideas of reincarnation are eyeroll inducing and graphic for the sake of being graphic.
I stress that this film needed a shorter runtime because within those first two thirds, Enter the Void is absolutely captivating. The performances are superb. Paz de la Huerta shows that she will take many risks and go to any level to achieve greatness with her role. She is a great standout. Even though we don’t see Nathaniel Brown for 90% of the movie, he has to make each line resonate with emotion in order for his feelings to audibly carry across to an audience. He excels here. When that third act commences, Noé and his script ask a lot from its audience; maybe too much. During this portion, because Oscar is floating above, the shots are at a bird’s eye view. Again, this effect is stimulating and interesting at first but gradually grows tiresome due to the fact that we’re unable to see any hint of facial expressions. These shots follow meandering characters in scenes that involve bland, two-dimensional character development. Nothing particularly interesting is going on and Noé has no clue how to end certain scenes. When in doubt, he has Oscar leave the scenario and soar over buildings. It gets worse. The audience is then subjected to prolonged, repetitive scenes of multiple couples having graphic sex, a baby crying a la Eraserhead, and lots of “fakeout” endings. The audience, by this time, is exhausted and we want some sort of closure. The problem is Noé is so caught up in his style, that his stubbornness blinds and deafens him from the voice of reason.
Enter the Void is an extremely tough film to recommend; it may just be the definition of that. On one hand, the film is a technical landmark. A true and prime example of how one can manipulate a camera and visual effects to give an audience a visceral movie going experience. On the other hand, once Oscar takes to the skies and the main focus aims towards the side characters, Gaspar Noé’s final leg tailspins into being self important, tedious, inane nonsense. My initial “oh wow” gradually turned into an “oy vey…”