Tag: consciousness

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.


Rubber (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A tire suddenly came to life in the desert. Like a toddler’s uncertainty in taking its first steps, we observed Robert the tire rolling around and falling over. It learned that it liked to put its weight on things like plastic water bottles and small animals. When Robert couldn’t physically destroy something, it used its psychic powers in order to force its target to explode. Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, I had fun with “Rubber” because it took a ridiculous idea and kept its head high like it wasn’t anybody’s business. The bad acting, thin dialogue, and lack of sensical narrative worked because our expectations were turned inside out before we even had time to form them. I was consistently interested in the murderous tire and what it was going to do next. There was a subplot involving Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) and an accountant (Jack Plotnick) wanting to kill the audiences, literally the people with binoculars watching the tire murder people from a distance. Sometimes it worked. I saw the subplot as the director’s frustration of Hollywood unabashedly rehashing the same old formula in terms of which movies would receive the green light and the audiences’ willingness in swallowing it all up. I saw the turkey, poisoned food given to the onlookers, as a symbol of most of the garbage in the film business. The garbage is killing our culture. I share that frustration. In every ten movies I watch, only one (or two if I’m lucky) is truly original and refreshing. Another scene I enjoyed was when the lieutenant tried to convince his men that they should stop doing their jobs (they were at a crime scene) because it was all a movie. Just so his colleagues would believe him, he ordered one of them to shoot him. If he didn’t die, it was proof that everything was fake. Lastly, I was amused when Lieutenant Chad, whose goal was to destroy Robert, looked into the camera during the opening scene and explained to us the lack of reason for the things we were about to see. It prepared us for what was coming. However, there were times when the picture didn’t quite work. We were not made aware of Lieutenant Chad and the accountant’s endgame. Were they aware of the tire’s true potential? We they fully invested in supposedly saving mankind from tired ideas? Was the universe that the characters inhabited a part of some sick joke? We never found out. I had some questions for Robert as well. The tire was interested in a woman (Roxane Mesquida) but was it aware of its own lack of body structures like limbs, torso, and a head? There was one shot in which the tire saw its own reflection and, despite being an inanimate object, it seemed a bit sad. I imagined it thinking, “Why do I look like this?” That moment made me realize that, despite its wild premise, I was enjoying the picture for what it was. “Rubber” was absurd, some would say unnecessary, but the director used such qualities to make a statement and create something quite original. If anything, it had to be given credit for its sheer audacity.


Surrogates (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I have no idea why critics didn’t like this movie. I feel like they all read one really good negative review and they all jumped on the bandwagon. “Surrogates,” directed by Jonathan Mostow, was set at a time when humans could simply purchase a robot and use it as a surrogate to do whatever they wanted via a machine invented by Dr. Canter (James Cromwell). For years, everything was fine until an assassin killed the son (through his surrogate) of Dr. Canter using an advanced weapon. This immediately became a problem because people always thought that there was a fail-safe designed to protect them in the comforts of their homes. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) were assigned to find out who the murderer was, what kind of weapon he had and who hired him. But that was just the surface of the mystery. I couldn’t help but compare this film to the dreadful “Gamer” because it basically had the same concept: living one’s life through another whether that particular “another” is sentient or not. I think “Surrogates” is far superior because it looked like it was set in the future, it brought up interesting questions about the difference between consciousness and actually living one’s life, there was a sense of urgency from beginning to end and it was actually entertaining without surroundering to the depravity of violence. I loved that the writers (Michael Ferris, John D. Broncata) chose to show us how Willis’ character was like when he used a surrogate (near the beginning of the picture) and how he was like without his surrogate (the majority of the picture). Making Willis’ character aware of the wrongness of the whole surrogacy situation (especially the scenes with his wife who’s addicted to using her much younger surrogate) and that he was capable of being hurt out in the world full of robots made us root for him. The action and chase scenes were surprisingly effective because the film constantly played on the suspense instead of just giving us one mindless explosion after another. There were also some very neat scenes that involved hijacking of surrogates which meant double identities and double-crosses were potentially abound. There were some twists that I didn’t see coming that sort of paved the way for some plot holes but I didn’t mind it because the movie was so much fun to watch. It was so creepy watching people acting like robots, especially when they would “deactivate” and looked as if they were in a catatonic state. “Surrogates” is not a perfect film but it’s not as terrible as critics claimed for it to be. It definitely had some great ideas that were executed quite nicely so I think it’s worth watching.

Waking Life

Waking Life (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset”), “Waking Life” is an animated film that tackles deep questions about what life is and how it is like to live one’s life. Although it is essentially an animated film, it is very adult in its approach to tell a story of a guy (Wiley Wiggins) who “wakes up” in his dream and into other dreams without knowing whether he’s conscious or awake in “real life.” I admired that this film actively does not confine itself into the kind of Hollywood filmmaking where there is a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Just like the look of the picture, the story flows and moves like water, which enhances the film’s overall craft because the issues that it tackles are very abstract. And it also helped because the main character is in a dream. I particularly liked the scene when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their characters from “Before Sunrise” and had a deeper conversation about what was said in that movie. It really made me think about why, when we dream, time feels endless but in actuality we’ve slept for a very limited amount of time. That constant theme of there having to be something more to life than rules and meaning is explored in such a deep and intellectual way to the point where I found myself struggling to keep up because I wanted to savor the conversations. While I admit that I did not fully understand some of the concepts that they discussed and the names they dropped, it made me want to read up on such topics and people that are unfamiliar. This is a thinking man’s movie and definitely not for people who constantly have to have action scenes thrown at them. The power of this unique-looking film lies in the words and the exaggerated, almost expressionistic, images to highlight the transient meanings of the implications. My only main problem with it is that I felt as though part of the last third somewhat felt apart because it did not fully integrate some of the biggest themes that pervaded the rest of the movie. Still, I’m going to give “Waking Life” a recommendation because it was able to incite various insights on how to communicate and see (or feel?) the world in unfamiliar and not fully explained perspectives.