MPI // 2010 // 161 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 3rd, 2011
We promised never to leave each other.
He may had a couple of small credits to his name before, but director Gaspar Noé unleashed his sickening and brilliant Irreversible upon unsuspecting audiences all the way back in 2002. After shocking them into submission, he returned to the shadows where he sat for years, waiting to do it all again. Enter the Void marks Noé's return to the cinema, and he does not enter with a whimper. Enter the Void is an audacious spectacle and an orgy of audio-visual delights. I didn't know what to expect going into the film and, leaving it, the only thing I am sure of is I have never seen anything quite like it.
After a drug deal gone bad, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) lies dead on the bathroom floor. Now, his spirit glides through Tokyo watching his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta, Choke), and the rest of his bottom-dwelling expat crew as they deal with the aftermath of his death. When Oscar said he'd always stay by Linda's side, he was serious.
After beginning with a typographer's dream and one of the coolest opening title sequences I've ever seen, Enter the Void spends its three hour running time in a constant state of flux. It gives a relatively continuous first thirty minutes and then the film explodes into varying perspectives and levels of consciousness, all punctuated by incredibly fluid and graceful cinematography. The film is outrageously ambitious and, at first, it doesn't seem like it could possibly hold together. Yet it does, as if by alchemy, and Enter the Void is a magical cinematic journey.
There are more than a few influences at work here and, though they are expertly blended together to create Noé's unique stew, none stands out so boldly as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The book is mentioned multiple times in the opening segment, a clear tipoff in this rarely subtle film. As Oscar walks toward his tragic fate, his junkie friend Alex (Cyril Roy), who also happens to be sleeping with Linda, relays to Oscar the mystical ideas in the book at great length, and these thoughts remain in his head when he dies. Now a wandering spirit, he glides through walls, over the streets of Tokyo, and into the bodies of others. He sees from many perspectives now and, while watching his old life from above, he reflects on his life, his family, and what brought everything to this dark place.
Leaving the story aside for a moment, the visual display of Enter the Void is nothing short of spectacular. It is a carnival of lights, an array of color and texture like I've never seen before, and I don't mean that as hyperbole. There's so little in my experience to compare it to that it proves frustrating to describe. Part 2001, part Wings of Desire, and part a slew of things, the film is all of these pieces and none at the same time. While one could pick it apart into its influences, it would be to lose the point of it all. Noé has made something all his own out of them, something that just has to be seen. The city of Tokyo, lined in neon, becomes a backdrop for Oscar's spirit, which travels freely through amoebic tendrils of light; transporting him into other places, times, and perspectives. Visually, this is a jaw-dropping piece of work.
The story is relatively effective, but it comes in a distant second place to the style of the film. Ultimately, it's a story of sibling love and loss, drenched in sex and drugs and punctuated by moments of extreme sadness. Oscar and Linda's parents were lost in a horrific accident, which the director returns to all too often to diminishing effect, and they became separated at a very young age. Oscar's effort to keep his promise brings Linda to Tokyo, beginning their descent into the underground sex and drug trades. Their lives are not pretty, but Noé shows them honestly and without flinching. He shoots the film primarily from Oscar's perspective, both first person and over-the-shoulder, which gives an immediacy to the story. We see things at the same time as Oscar and, within this character, it is easy to feel what Oscar feels. Sometimes that's very sad and sometimes it's plain gross, but it was compelling enough to make me forget about the length of the film and accept the shifting nature of the narrative, which moves back and forth in time and place with no sense of cohesion. While, some day, I would like to see what Gaspar Noé can do with a more restrictive, traditional narrative, for now I'm happy to have my mind blown.
From MPI, the DVD for Enter the Void looks and sounds very good, as the film deserves, but the audio-visual spectrum here begs for the Blu-ray treatment. As it stands, though, I'm happy with how it looks. The colors are full and rich, while the black levels are deep. Sometimes, the brightness of the lights causes halos to appear, although it wouldn't surprise me to find this intentional. Aside from that, there are no defects in the frame. The sound fares even better. There are very few silent moments in the film and the sound performs brilliantly. The soundtrack, which travels everywhere from Bach to Throbbing Gristle, booms through all channels and the ambient noise, a compilation of work from Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter (who was originally slated to score the film, but could not due to his commitment to Tron: Legacy), is as amorphous as the visual design. It's a beautiful array of complimentary sounds that completes the aesthetic and comes through fully and brightly throughout the film.
The extra features, though, are a decided disappointment. Twenty minutes of deleted scenes add additional texture, but are unnecessary to the film. After that, we get a ridiculous seventeen minutes of teasers and trailers. They're nicely designed, similar in style to the film's credit sequence, but seventeen minutes is excessive. The next two features, called "DMT" and "Vortex," are simple visual displays. The first is an edited loop of the DMT footage and the second is a montage of the lights Oscar flies through, which is a more varied version of the same thing. The only feature of any real value is a look at the visual effects, broken down into lines and layers of background and color. There is no accompanying commentary, however, so it mostly serves as little more than another beautiful display.
Amazing as all these images look and as beautifully as Noé shoots them, Enter the Void his its problems. The performances, especially, bring the picture down a peg. Most of the actors are first-timers, so there's some forgiveness there. Paz de la Huerta, though, is incredibly flat in every respect, even in the most extreme of situations. Noé put it best in an interview, when he said, "She had the profile for the character because she likes screaming, crying, showing herself naked -- all the quality for it." That pretty much sums it up. To see her character's four-year-old counterpart outstrip her performance in both emotion and the pure reading of lines is really not pretty. Mostly, it doesn't matter, her work gets partially masked by the visuals and the ever-changing narrative, but she's genuinely tough to watch.
More importantly, because Enter the Void is such a beautiful and unique film, it deserves to be seen on a broad scale. Unfortunately, there will be a substantial faction of people who will refuse to watch the film based solely on its content. Some of the film, admittedly, is tough to watch, but not even close to Irreversible. The themes he uses for shock value: incest, abortion, et cetera; should be taken with a grain of salt, but some hangups are deal breakers for people. I can't say that I don't understand but, while I would never want Noé to change what he wants to make movies about, I do wish the film could reach a wider audience.
Rarely have I seen a film as purely beautiful as Enter the Void. Gaspar Noé has taken a barrage of influences and created something downright unique. It's content is certainly not for everybody and I warn those sensitive to flashing lights (no joke), but this is an amazing piece of art with innovation and substance that I can't wait to get back to, although not before going out to buy the Blu-ray version.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 161 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes