Enter the Void Dir. Gasper Noé

[Wild Bunch; 2009]

Styles: drama, thriller, cult
Others: I Stand Alone, Irreversible

Enter the Void is a film that ought not to be summarized, synopsized, or analyzed. It is to be experienced. Sure, there’s a story, but frankly it’s not far from the basic plot of The Lovely Bones. The narrative is functional, but virtually irrelevant. What makes seeing Void a mesmerizing experience is French director Gasper Noé’s spectacular filmmaking, a hyperactive head-trip that makes Danny Boyle’s “do-the-Dew” pyrotechnics look like child’s play. Fusing together the influences of a number of mid-century avant-garde filmmakers, Noé has singlehandedly fashioned a new brand of psychedelic cinema that’s both compulsively watchable and totally tripped-out. Stoners, your days of sifting through mashups of Pink Floyd and Disney movies are over. This is the real thing.

Noé wastes no time bombarding the audience with flashy neon colors delivered at warp speed, and that’s even before we get our first glimpse of the film’s setting, the famously garish Tokyo. The manic opening credits sequence perfectly readies the audience for Noé’s vision of the glimmering metropolis, although here we’re placed in a seedy underworld of the city that’s miles away from Lost in Translation’s chic hotel ambiance. With the camera perched precisely in place of the head of the film’s protagonist, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), we begin with a first-person perspective confined to his tiny apartment. He smokes DMT, discusses The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and even spaces out to some closed-eye visuals that resemble a slightly more artful version of the iTunes visualizer.

Clearly, Noé is not afraid to embrace some of the broadest clichés of the psychedelic lifestyle, but he captures the necessary tone so perfectly that we’re absorbed nonetheless. When Oscar steps out of his apartment into the Tokyo night, the city doesn’t feel colorful or exciting; it feels dark, foreboding, paranoid. And the near-preposterous final act, which so carefully teeters on the line between the profound and the absurd (and which did indeed incite a few giggles in my screening room), is still thrillingly audacious enough to leave its audience properly mindfucked when the lights come up.

It’s actually the film’s middle act that remains the tightest and most focused. Noé employs a whirl-a-gig camera technique (with echoes of Michael Snow) that roves above Tokyo’s darkest alleys and nightclubs, through Oscar’s childhood memories, and into the abstract beyond. It’s the kind of bravura, sui generis filmmaking that the term “pure cinema” was invented for. The characters may be unlikable, the acting both overheated and underwhelming, but with Noé at the helm, it’s never less than viscerally thrilling.

At one point in this breakneck mid-section, a chime-based muzak version of 60s psych-ballad “Whiter Shade of Pale” creeps onto the soundtrack. Having been fortunate enough to have visited Tokyo, I suddenly recalled that my hotel lobby played similar chimed versions of American pop songs. I found them maddening and headache-inducing, yet oddly haunting and addictive, which of course are the exact same adjectives I’d use to describe Enter the Void. Like the classic Procol Harum tune, Noé’s film is cheesy melodrama embalmed in outlandishly trippy production. But it’s his unwavering commitment to his vision that makes Void a truly unique cinematic experience, one that is simultaneously outrageous and unforgettable.

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