October 6th, 2010 / 12:21 pm

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.

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  1. Guest


      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.

      Well…he did make two previous films that are pretty stunning, so to call him a “glorified music video director” seems a tad unfair. Also, who says he’s “tackling” any issues? Noe seems, to my eye, to believe that all aspects of life deserve to be shown on film. Violence, sex, etc. The viewer should not be spared. Imagine the difference if he had simply had a conversational mention of Paz’s abortion?

  2. M Kitchell

      What’s interesting is that what you found problematic about this is pretty much what I found problematic about Noé’s first two films. The difference is I didn’t find the fact funny. Still vaguely curious about it, but like to read dissenting opinions.

  3. alanrossi

      it was so much fun reading this. really good. thank you.

      i really want to see the movie, but i’ve been weary of it since i watched the trailer and there’s a line that goes “The tibetan book of the dead. I’m assuming it’s about death.” i was already giggling, hoping that the line was just slapped on the trailer or something.

  4. alan

      “the scene is utterly non sequitur, and is offered as shorthand for how low Linda has fallen”

      If only this film had a few non sequiturs. It’s incredibly straightforward and literal-minded. The abortion scene is the resolution of the disembodied soul’s first attempt to reincarnate.

      I personally don’t get the squeamishness expressed in this review. And I think it should decide whether the film was too moralistic or not moralistic enough. My view is the former.

  5. Monch

      When the hell is this going to get a wider release?

  6. david

      I’m kind of surprised, frankly. I really thought it was a massively complicated film that begged all sorts of questions. For starters, JT, that abortion scene, as with the scene where the spirit-consciousness passes itself through the stove flames – it’s an effort at suicide. We’ve been told before now that the thing can elect to reincarnate itself, so when it pushes in at those moments it’s trying to choose an absolute exit. But there’s an interdiction: there is no beyond to this beyond, ‘the void’ in its essence, the very principle of the black hole. That sense of the cloistered outside informs the entire film so that “the swiftness with which the uncanny desiccates into the mundane is easily the most poignant lesson this film has to teach” is deliberately devised, not just a side-effect of poor conceptualization. In a way, the marriage of the oedipal complex with the Tibetan Book of the Dead in such literal-minded terms, to use Alan’s not incorrect description, gives rise to a relentless overdetermination – Noe’s forte – one that is intensely sophisticated for being so wildly by the script. It promotes a specific kind of question, one that owes a lot to Parmenides – “How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown.” In a sense, Noe’s whole film is a commentary on this Parmenidian to Western knowledge – the denial of the possibility of a void – and in its place, it evinces a type of radical Parmenidian perspective: citing him again, “The mortals lay down and decided well to name two forms (i.e. the flaming light and obscure darkness of night), out of which it is necessary not to make one, and in this they are led astray.” So to me, that undergraduate is totally right to have been annoyed at you – although the ending is definitely meant to be funny, especially the very last minute punchline of seperation – the ‘first’ trauma. I found it intensely intriguing, especially that all of its commentary is not even once explicated in give-away dialogue or in some kind of illustrative symbology that isn’t also utterly overburdened with its archetypal nature. My favourite thing about ‘Enter the Void’ probably is how it resolutely insists on the enduring obscurity of the cliches we think we’ve mastered, debunked and are past, the inscrutability of the obvious.

  7. alanrossi


  8. alanrossi

      begging the question does not mean to raise various questions. i should put this in that other thread, about phrases that are not good or wrongly used. i’m sorry, i’ve heard the phrase three times this week and need to point it out. good response though, makes me want to see this more.

      really, when does this come out for those of us not in a major city? i can’t find such info.

  9. david

      Ha, you’ll have to forgive me, too, but it kind of irks me when the grammar police assume any variation on a specific grammatical rule must thereby be an infraction of that rule. I think even if someone uses ‘beg the question’ out of context it hardly matters unless they’re trying to hoodwink someone into thinking they understand the petitio principii when they don’t. As it happens, though, I was meaning ‘beg the question’ to taken through its formal logic definition. To Wikipedia: “petitio principii refers to arguing for a conclusion that has already been assumed in the premise, in effect “begging” any listener to “question” the basis of the logic.” That’s exactly what Noe’s film does, and what my point was in terms of its begging all sorts of question.

  10. JustinTaylor

      Yeah, and I thought it was a silly-ass drug movie that treated Tokyo like an imaginary theme park (which is reasonable) and was pretty fun except for when it wasn’t. As for the poor NYU student- I’m not taking any licks for that one, or making any apologies. It was a totally spontaneous response-to-stimulus and it struck a group of several dozen complete strangers all exactly the same way. That’s life in the big city.

  11. JustinTaylor

      It’s not the graphic character of the sex or violence I object to, it’s the utter glibness of their depiction, and the childishness of a director who has recourse to nothing else. Just being willing to get as ugly as possible as fast as possible doesn’t in and of itself make an artwork brave, or even interesting. The best example of this is the brutal death of Linda’s and Oscar’s parents in that car crash scene. It’s so over-the-top gruesome there’s no way to take it seriously, even on the film’s own terms. It is its own caricature, and if someone wants to argue that that was the point, they should go knock themselves out, but I don’t think it was. What this film has is fake morals, which is the worst of the three options; it would have been better if it had either had real morals, or if it had none.

  12. david

      Oh, I’m not saying it was wrong to laugh, I did too, it’s deliriously over-the-top – just that using the ‘too-serious’ undergrad as your po-faced straw man is kind of a cop-out. I mean that in a sense, the student taking the whole thinking very gravely is as correct and as spontaneous a response-to-stimulus as laughter and the truth is in the syncopated antagonism of both. As for using Tokyo as a theme park, I think the last thing you can call that film is orientalist, though you aren’t quite saying that. It depends on certain spacey aesthetics it can only make non-sci-fi in the neon architectures of certain areas of Tokyo turned into a universal principle: it’s really more like Toyko as a Kubrickian Gotham City, unapologetically unreal. Anyhow, everyone can’t love everything but I encourage you to maybe give it a second look at a later time, maybe.

  13. alanrossi

      right. but it doesn’t seem like that’s what your post was saying, meaning, in terms of begging the question. and really, the phrase makes no real sense in regards to the rest of your post, unless you mean that most of of noe’s conclusions are assumed in his premises and the questions that have been “begged” out of you are all questions that expose the flaws of noe’s logic. and that wikipedia definition sort of sucks.

      anyway, like i said, i still enjoyed your post.

  14. Blake Butler

      I intensely agree w/ yr take on the car crash scene. I love Noe’s first two films, and had very high expectations of how he can handle certain grotequeries as a result, and yet so much in EtV felt just false, which maybe is a reflection of the Void in the title, but I don’t think the implications the title projects is enough to get away with some of the wholly void and ultimately cheap images he used here. I’m hardly one to shy from violence, even in being utterly void, but the feeling that came out of those crash scenes was just boring to me: the screaming child covered in blood, obviously used to make the audience unsettled, made me feel not a void in the way a powerful void can, but in the void of bleh, dude, come on.

      All that said, I think if the film had had no dialogue it would have been 100x better. The visual work and post production was a feat in itself, and I wish it hadn’t been so complicated by an ultimately retarded and often cheesy storyline.

      Not that there’s a good taste in your mouth from this one Justin, but I’d recommend checking out his first movie I Stand Alone, and/or his second Irreversible, both of which are way way more successful creations.

  15. david

      Oh, well, I meant it in the sense that the questions begged out of you about the ‘conclusions’ – the apparent narrative archetypes Noe seems to very ham-fistedly deploy – are questions that explore the flaws in many Western philosophical conceptualizations of birth, death, and the void and what nothingness is or is not. Thanks for the kudos.

  16. JustinTaylor

      I don’t think it was an Orientalist film. I’ve been to Tokyo, and Noe does a great job of depicting how that city can make you feel (with or without DMT, etc).

      Again, I’m not arguing that I hated the film–or even that it was bar none terrible. There’s plenty to like about it. I just thought it was a much lighter picture than it seemed to think that it was, and that it was uneven and too long. It would have been twice as powerful at half the length.

      As for the NYU student–he’s not a straw man, he’s a punchline. Of a joke I made. And has no independent existence apart therefrom.

  17. david

      Really, the car crash scene is dreadful, in both senses: especially the performance he manages to wrangle out of the little girl. I don’t think I’ve ever been subject to quite that level of assault on film before where I was both totally appalled at the level of angst and also totally and irrevocably unable to feel it. To me, it’s not at all a caricature: it’s like a tableau, a quotidian tragedy ingrown on itself it’s hysterical, some sort of really fucked up cosmic hangnail that isn’t recuperated by the elegance of its presentation. I also felt as though the images you’re calling cheap here – especially some of the terribly sugary memories – are so unreconstructed in their obviousness that it’s more uncomfortable to watch them than anything else and thus entirely coterminous with Noe’s uncompromising attitude in his earlier films. So in a way, if one is to hate this film, one should probably hate what he’s doing in his earlier ones as well – it’s a radicalization of the same technique, except here rather than injecting banality into rape, he injects rape into banality. And interestingly, I can’t say that I found the film boring for even one minute. It’s certainly true that it courts tedium – there is a point in it when you become very consciousness of time and repetition, where it really becomes clear what a prison this miracle of cinema is, where the limits of the model are exposed precisely in line with Noe’s sense that the worst thing is there’s nowhere else to go – but boring? It wasn’t for me at least. It’s interesting that the most key response to this film that’s emerging is that it was basically too simple. It really wasn’t that way for me at all – what appeared to be its glaring flaws struck me as intensely goading, still demanding more reflection.

  18. M Kitchell

      I have a pretty staunch belief that approximately 50% of movies would improve if they featured a total lack of dialogue.

  19. david

      Oh, no, I mean I got that the NYU student was your invention: what I meant was it was a straw-man opponent to your own reaction. Anyhow, I think you make a good point about its unevenness – that demands some thought. Because I do think, going off the general response from sharp, receptive viewers like yourself and Blake that there’s a sense in which the film is maybe somewhat off kilter in what it divulges and what it secrets and secretes in and through its aesthetic. Maybe it could have stood with more embroidering and convolution on the symbolic level, though I suppose if it did that it would have run the risk of provisioning a critical exit it ruthlessly wishes to deny. Still, risk is meant to be Noe’s thing so that’s possibly an area where it doesn’t completely pull its gamble off.

  20. alanrossi

      Okay, that certainly makes more sense. And I promise to be done after this. Still, it seems like what you’re talking about is not really begging the question, which is a very specific type of fallacy. The fallacy is one in which a stated premise assumes as true a certain conclusion, without supporting that conclusion. It’s similar to circular logic. So that the very specific flaw in begging the question is the the assumption of the conclusion in the premise, without actually proving the conclusion. Flaws in conceptualizations, like Western ideas of birth and death, typically having nothing to do with “begging the question” – these are flawed ideas, or messy concepts, or whatever, rather than concrete premises that (often purposefully) assume some concrete conclusion without support. In begging the question fallacy, it’s less to do with a flawed philosophical idea or concept, and more to do with how the logical statement is posited – a logical statement may be fallaciously begging question until the assumed support is given and the premise stops assuming a conclusion; if that support for the premise is given, the statement, the reworked premise, and the conclusion are no longer fallacious. Unless Noe is actively seeking a very specific kind of fallacy, in which a stated premise assumes its own conclusion, then he is simply “raising questions” about possibly flawed concepts. Or, as you say, raising questions that explore flawed Western philosophical concepts.

      i apologize. i sort of had to see if i could still remember this.

  21. Scott mcclanahan
  22. david

      “If that support for the premise is given, the statement, the reworked premise, and the conclusion are no longer fallacious.” Good point. I guess maybe my use of ‘begging the question’ may rely on you seeing how Noe goes about performing things like the oedipus complex and reincarnation in the film – what I mean is the sense that the movie begs its own questions is what awakens the critical aspect to it that would otherwise be non-existent and it changes the way you approach the whole film. But you’re right – in the sense of the petitio principii being a simple error in reasoning rather than an ontological impasse, then I do mean raising questions, yeah.

  23. Janey Smith

      Excited to see it–so I can talk about it, too!

  24. alan

      I can go either way on the car crash (and was far more disturbed by the Hallmark-esque use of generically cute kids).

      But I was genuinely surprised that you had a problem with a non-condemnatory attitude towards drug use and brother-sister relations. Not to mention sex with one’s best friend’s mom?

      And maybe I’m jaded or something but I didn’t find any of the nudity/sex scenes to be remotely exploitative. Wasn’t there a maternal context to the breast shots? You can see young mothers breast-feeding in Old Navy these days.

  25. reynard seifert

      i had a similar experience in a lot of ways, especially the laughter at the cgi cum shot. when we ‘entered the void’ someone yelled, yeah! and most everyone was into that. i think i agree with the idea that the movie has more fun with itself than it does with what it’s about. but i do think it’s about something. there was a pretty sincere attempt to say something similar to what louis malle says in murmur of the heart re: incest, circle of life, sexuality, blahblahblah. but it’s not much of an honest sincerity, so i suppose it’s dishonestly sincere (if that makes any sense, i don’t think it does but oh well). the whole thing seemed to me a pretty obvious meditation on the absence and relocation of father and mother figures. again, what it’s about is maybe just an excuse to do what he wants to do but i mean i think that’s okay. it was certainly flawed but then so are a lot of the more adventurous films of fellini and welles and bunuel; not everything works or works well but you don’t really know until you put it out there and see what sticks. i could see this film inspiring something far greater perhaps than it is in itself. anyway i’m glad i saw it in the theater. unlike most movies, it was worth the money for the experience.

  26. home

      I stop reading this at the second paragraph. i think it is a mistake to criticized any kind of work begining with a moral interpretetion and ending with that same statement. I guess it’s because of a naive or limited approach of the substance and context of this film. Or maybe the radical opposition of this article make it so boring and so called “blog opinion”

  27. Maass

      i feel a reject towards pornography here

  28. mjm

      Just saw this. Confused a little by the responses I am reading. Seems to me that if a director is attempting realism, and you have an object to what he is showing you, then look not at the film and have an issue, look at the world around you have an issue. As I sat and watched the abortion scene, I audibly kept repeating, “Oh no way. No he isn’t.” And when I saw the fetus, I said again, aloud, “Don’t show it man. Don’t. C’mon.” And instead of lashing against the director, I had to turn within myself and realize: This is why I am against abortion. Not against a choice being there, but against it happening. This is a contradiction and I understand that. I feel as if the car crash and the little girl’s reaction was not “being used to manipulate the audience”, but more so the director was simply trying to represent reality. THIS is what a car crash would look like in this situation. THIS is what would happen to the two people sitting in the front sea. THIS is what this soul would see if it were to watch an abortion.

      The film asks and suggests — It is possible most viewers do not believe in reincarnation of “the soul”, as they feel to believe in “the soul” one must believe in God and to believe in God is to believe in the Christian God as prescribed by society unto them. But this film is dealing, while yes, with the Tibetan ideas of after life, are also dealing with a realistic portrayal of what an afterlife may appear as. And from my experience, he has it damn close.

      I don’t understand why laughing at the CGI dick-pop is a “bad” reaction. I chuckled at it. Sure, you could trace it back to a childish view on sexual actions, the nature and relation of pornography to the self, or even of sex to the self. And to be utterly blunt — how many people have laughed when they themselves were in a sexual encounter and popped their top, either being that person or watching their partner do it, and chuckled or laughed at the reaction.

      It seems that more the reviewer is taking the film more seriously than the film seems to be taking itself.

  29. Ruffneck36

      Apart from the T and A this film sucked. I found myself suffering through most of it. At the half way mark…I was thinking “I made it this far…can’t quit now”. Boy did I really pay the price for not being a quiter. The last half of the movie was as ridculous as the first half. First time I ever had to put my hand in front of my eyes to block the images from destroying my retnia at several points in the movie.

  30. alanrossi

      it was terribly weak script. noe’s “themes” were so bland, obvious, and simplified that it was difficult to continue watching. his use of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was adolescent at best. i don’t even want to go into the soul floating around thing, it was such a lame device. and the relationship between drugs and dying, oh man, just outrageously sophomoric. frankly, the movie made way, way, way too much sense, all added up too easily.

      visually, it was pretty cool.