Film Review: Enter the Void

2009’s Enter the Void is the third film I’ve seen by Argentine director Gaspar Noé, the other two being Irreversible and I Stand Alone. It’s my favorite of the three. This post is long overdue, as I saw, and was blown away by, it several months ago.

From the very beginning, with its blaringly colorful, garishly flashy, epileptic seizure-inducing opening titles, Enter the Void is obviously striving to do something visually very different and impactive, aiming for sensory overload and trippy, mind-bending experiences. And it succeeds. Destined for controversy and plenty of hate due to its graphic sexual content and themes, I think few people would deny that visually it’s fascinating and innovative.

A brief description of the plot:

Oscar, a young American drug dealer living in Tokyo, has been separated from his younger sister, Linda, since their parents died in a traumatic car accident when they were children, and has recently been reunited with her.

The first part of the movie introduces us to the protagonist in his apartment from a first-person perspective, showing us his psychedelic, out-of-world experience after he takes a particularly powerful hallucinogenic drug. He then heads over to a bar called “The Void,” where he is killed in a police raid.

After Oscar dies in the squalid bathroom of The Void, the movie shifts to a wider, disembodied, more abstract, even metaphysical perspective, soaring vertiginously over the city, beyond and through normal boundaries, penetrating walls, and focusing again at certain places/times as he observes Linda and others he knows in the wake of his death.

Ultimately it is something that just needs to be experienced by the viewer. The continuously flashing, pulsating, shifting-colored visual quality of the movie is impossible to describe, and it’s also accompanied by an uncanny, throbbing, experimental, sometimes unsettling soundtrack.

Noé is interested in tapping into intense, violent, primal emotions in his characters, exploring dark and gritty themes, and Enter the Void definitely follows this vein. I see him as always combining grittiness and tenderness in his art. There is a lot of explicit sexuality, violence, and harshness, all in the midst of the neon-enmeshed, garish, sordid underbelly of the Tokyo urban nightlife. And there’s definitely a rather bizarre death/sex/rebirth-cycle theme running through it all. Oscar’s postmortem physics-transcending wanderings push at and disturb and alter the ordinary boundaries of individual consciousness, expanding them incredibly outwards.

At 161 minutes, Enter the Void is rather long, and I didn’t particularly care for the direction shown in the last part. Nevertheless, I loved the movie as a whole. I found it to be a lot more interesting than I thought it would be from the trailer. It’s one of the most interesting films I’ve seen recently, and probably ever. Perhaps not for the squeamish – though I will never understand people disliking movies just for being transgressive and dealing with taboo themes.