Dare to be Stupid: on Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void”

[Caveat spoiler. Enter this and all voids at your own risk.]


Enter the Void, the new film by Gaspar Noe, is a nearly three hours’ slurry of blur and brightness, punctuated by lucid moments of pornographic violence and/or actual pornography, and informed by exactly two ideas: the first, that everything about a fluorescent light is utterly fascinating; the second, that the only remotely interesting thing about a woman is her tits. Everything else the film has to say–drugs are bad, kind of, but maybe they’re just really cool; fucking your sister, like fucking your best friend’s mom, has its pros and cons; Japan is really shiny and has relatively few Japanese people in it; something something reincarnation–is either so hopelessly garbled or else delivered in such cliched terms (“Rockabye Baby” plinked out on a celeste! A drug dealer who is also a gay rapist!) that the temptation is to think the movie is inviting your laughter. (O, would that it were so!) I saw it last night with Joshua Cohen at the IFC Cinema in New York.

Ostensibly an exercise in high style, Enter the Void has a visual lexicon of about four, maybe five words, and like a child struggling to learn speech it repeats them over and over again until even the most patient parent in the room is gritting his teeth behind his encouraging grin. “Yes, very good, Gaspar. You said ‘mama.’ Can you say ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ now? Tih-bet-tan.” Without question, the cinematography is superlative–every single shot is a spectacle–and certain of the sets (such as the downstairs crystal chandelier store–if that’s what it was) are incredible in their sumptuous detail, but the tricks are so few and in such heavy rotation that the film’s barely gotten started before they’ve become repetitive and tiresome. The swiftness with which the uncanny desiccates into the mundane is easily the most poignant lesson this film has to teach.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the experience, in light of the above, was how much I enjoyed it–not the film, precisely, but the experience of going to see it. There is something admirable about a filmmaker willing to be this ham-handed, unbalanced, inarticulate and insane, for no particular reason other than that he can (or maybe because he can’t not). Most of the time, Noe seems to barely know what his movie is about, which made two of us (three, including Josh) and I guess I mean it as a compliment when I say that as the film wore on, I began to think that this was not necessarily a problem. I assume that my reader is familiar with the standard arthouse cinema contract, wherein the director provokes some deep and complicated questions, and then you are obliged to mull on them afterward. That contract is null and void here. Noe has no point, and provokes nothing beyond an intermittent sense of awe, which has the advantage of being an end in itself. I felt like I was off the art-clock, and contentedly watched the bright lights flash, tits shake, Tokyo spin circles, etc. It felt good.

Though this does remind me (the tits did, I mean) of the one thing I found truly objectionable–the utterly inexcusable abortion scene that occurs somewhere in the film’s long middle. Linda–played by Paz de la Huerta, directed to act like she’s perpetually just been hit in the head–is laid out in stirrups, with her bottom half bare and her top half covered in a hospital gown open down the middle, like a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model about to slide out of a bikini. She works as a stripper, but it is only here that we are treated to an unswerving, properly lit, in-focus shot of her body. Masked doctors slide long metal instruments in and out of her, her beautiful brown bush centers the entire shot, and the soundtrack makes noises like a fork scraping beans out of a tin can. When it’s over, we are (of course) subjected to a long shot of the little bloody fetus in a kidney-shaped metal dish.

Teeming just below the surface of this pseudo-transgressive bullshit is a nasty reactionary message: a combination of misogynist judgment (the scene is utterly non sequitur, and is offered as shorthand for how low Linda has fallen) and exploitation (of cheap abortion-related pathos; of the fact that even with a speculum sticking out of her, de la Huerta is a vision). It’s a perfect example of what happens when a glorified music video director–who just might also be a moron–tries to tackle the quote Big Issues of The Day. His “take” on abortion has about as much nuance as, say, Sarah Palin’s, but is less coherent. He should leave the grownup stuff to filmmakers who can actually handle it–Todd Solondz, James Cameron, and whoever made that new 3D movie with those owls.

The showing we saw began at 10:15 PM. As the night wore on, several audience members decided to cut their losses. Around the two-hour mark, those of us who stayed stopped stifling our guffaws and muffling our jokes. The audience was united in a collective eye-roll, and encouraged each other. The film “climaxes” with a long delirious top-down sidle through the many rooms of a hotel, where everyone is fucking and all the genitals emit tendrils of light, because blah blah circle of life yada. But forget reasons–this film has none, and is probably better for it. Anyway,  Noe really only gets articulate when he’s filming sex or violence, so you get some very graphic shots of a fat Asian whore being fucked with a dildo, a woman blowing two men, etc., until finally we get an inside-looking-out POV shot of a CGI cockhead blowing its load inside a vaginal canal (the same one described above). When this happened, everyone in the theater burst out laughing. We were really having a good time! There was probably one undergraduate NYU film student whose night we inadvertently ruined, but maybe he’ll thank us when he’s older.  Anyway, subsequent to the cum-wave, the movie dissolves briefly into a health class film strip, then it turns (as per the Tibetan Book of the Inevitable) into Being John Malkovich. One more glimpse of tit, for good measure, and finis.

It was just before 1 AM when Josh and I left the theater. We laughed all the way downstairs and were still chuckling as we made our way up Sixth Avenue. Perhaps the strangest thing about Enter the Void is that it left us in great moods, and wide awake. We went for a nightcap, and then to our separate trains.