ESSENTIAL VIEWING: ENTER THE VOID
Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles (and will soon be available on demand, I think), is spectacular, maddening, technically brilliant, sophomoric, unsubtle, mature… what am I forgetting? I don’t know. You could make stew out of the adjectives that would work in that list. It’s a movie that, if you love movies, you have to see. (By no means do I mean to suggest that you’ll definitely love it. You very well may loathe it.) It is truly, and I honestly feel I’m saying this without hyperbole, not like any movie you’ve seen before.
Noe is an infamous and incorrigible provocateur. There’s no one moment in Enter the Void as confrontationally horrific as Irreversible’s fire extinguisher or tunnel rape scene, but it does contain many instances of hardcore sex and gynecological grotesquery. That aspect of the movie, though, is an afterthought to me. I saw it foremost as an attempt to expand the language of film.
Novels and film differ fundamentally when it comes to the concept of person, of course. A novel is written either in first or third person, except on the rare occasions when it’s second. You could argue that a film is primarily in third person with occasional interludes of first person, as done in POV shots. But that’s not true first person, is it?
Just seeing from a character’s visual perspective for a stretch isn’t the same as actual immersion in his or her mind—emotions, thoughts, sensations, etc. It doesn’t do what fiction does. It’s more analogous to moments of free indirect style that approximate a character’s perspective while retaining the freedoms that third person allows. I hope James Wood likes the movies.
Enter the Void is the first real feature-length attempt I’ve ever seen to approximate genuine, unbroken first-person perspective on a movie screen. (I have not seen the The Lady in the Lake. I’m not aware of any others. I saw The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—and hated it—but that only sticks with first person for fifteen or twenty excruciating minutes.)
In Enter the Void, we stay in the perspective of Oscar, a young layabout in Tokyo, tripping with him when he smokes DMT, watching planes creep across the night sky, talking to his barely-clad sister Linda… then we stay with his perspective as he goes to a night club to handle a drug deal. And then he gets killed. And we float out of his body and, for the next two hours, zoom around Tokyo as his disembodied spirit, burrowing through his memories, leaping into different bodies (including that of a club owner who’s fucking Linda).
You might say this isn’t first person… that Noe’s cheating by constructing a plot in which his protagonist’s spirit—and thus Noe’s camera—leaves his body and roams freely. But I actually think this is the boldest and most dedicated use of first person… Noe isn’t trying to reconstruct the visual experience of seeing through a person’s eyes, he’s trying to imagine what it’s like to live inside someone else’s mind, and he liberates himself to do this by divorcing person from the constraints of corporeal body. We inhabit Oscar’s memories, seeing his childhood, his relationship with his sister, his betrayal of a friend… these are interspersed with sequences from “reality,” where he sees (from above) events that occur after his death. This all leads into the astonishing final sequence, in which Oscar’s spirit roves through a Tokyo which seems to have become blended with a complex neon model of the city he once saw in a friend’s apartment… an absolutely bravura sequence, perhaps the most psychedelic passage I’ve ever seen in a film.
To be clear, this is not a narrative film in any traditional sense. It’s about immersion and it’s striving for expansion of the medium. (Noe is the rare filmmaker who I think could do something really spectacular with 3-D. I’d like to see Enter the Void’s “internal sex” scene filmed in 3-D, actually.)
I think you have a sense by now, after reading this and other things about the film, of whether you are the sort of person who might appreciate Enter the Void. If you are, you know what to do, as soon as possible.