Enter the Void

Enter the Void (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) has been reading “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” which purports to inform what one can expect to experience after death as well as reincarnation. On one fateful night, Victor (Olly Alexander) phones Oscar, a rookie drug dealer, and asks him to deliver a stash of pills in person. This proves to be a set-up, however, when Tokyo police comes busting into the bar. Out of panic, Oscar runs to the restroom and locks himself in one of the stalls to flush the illicit drugs down the toilet. Claiming that he has a gun and implies to use it if the cops don’t leave him alone, one of the officers shoots at the door and the bullet punctures Oscar’s chest. Although his dying body is sprawled on the floor, his spirit hovers above and looks down on the scene.

Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, “Enter the Void” is a bizarre, challenging, and perplexingly enveloping experience. From the moment we are forced to see through the protagonist’s eyes and hear his thoughts, I immediately felt like I was a part of his complicated and dangerous lifestyle, from his highly disorganized and dingy apartment where the floor is barely seen due to piles of books, unwashed dishes, and clothes to his increasingly desperate itch to experience another high.

None of the performances are especially impressive but I studied each character in fascination. Most of the time, we tend to interact with people with the aid of their facial expressions. In here, it is interesting that their faces are often hidden in either shadows or bright lights. At times they are even angled in such away that we only get see half of their faces or the back of their head faces us. It’s rare that we get to observe a character face-on under clear, natural light. This paves the way for the man behind the camera to shine.

The writer-director uses his camera to deliver expressions that we are unable to extract from the characters. For instance, when people argue, its movements are quite vigilant as if ready to get out of the way if or when the altercation turns physical. Conversely, when a character experiences a high, there is a heavy, hypnotic, and lumbering quality in its maneuvering. One quietly outstanding exercise in camerawork involves Oscar looking in the mirror while we remain to see him through his eyes. When he moves his head to the left or right, the movement of the camera to the left or right is perfectly timed. When he blinks or puts his hand on eyelids, the screen turns dark momentarily. When remnants of his high digs its nails into his brain, we can see translucent bright lights juxtaposed against the objects around him.

Following Oscar around the streets of Tokyo, most areas very well-lit due to its thriving nightlife, is another impressive feat because Noé manages to maintain his techniques despite the many goings-on outside and inside seedy establishments. I only wished that extended scenes of sex were cut down severely because they function more on the level of shock value instead of enhancing of the experience.

The picture is also surprisingly moving. Through carefully timed glimpses, we learn about Oscar and Linda (Paz de la Huerta), his only sister, and how circumstances separated and brought them together. I can see their story being a wonderful character study if the film had been a straightforward narrative about their relationship. “Enter the Void” has a heart underneath its blinding bright lights, depictions of graphic sex, and obfuscated implications. Though we observe Oscar’s life in pieces and out of chronological order, the material is so informative that most of us can admit that he can be so much more if he had decided to walk away from a life of drugs and never looked back before it had been too late.

4 replies »

  1. Love that you mention his use of the camera during during different emotions and scenes. It’s a stunning film to just let flow over you, but personally I found it a bit hollow and agree that none of the performances are up to much. Glad you got a bit more out of it than I did.

    • Before deciding to watch the movie, I looked into it and read a lot of warnings that it’s unlike a lot of movies out there. I’ve read plenty of frustrated reviews (mostly from regular audiences) so I braced and allowed myself to be open to whatever it has to offer.

      Like yourself, I felt a bit of hollowness from it at times. For me, though, its themes are nicely explored, it’s a great visual experience, it made me think, and it challenges the medium instead of settling for the standard. Hence, I do give it a recommendation (with a slight reservation) because there’s so many movies out there that are just junk.

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