Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and his younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire") made a pact to never leave each other after losing their parents in a horrific car accident when they were very small, but circumstances have kept them apart. Now living in Tokyo, Oscar's in denial about being a drug dealer, but he's made enough money to bring Linda over. She disapproves of his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) who she believes has gotten Oscar into drugs, but Alex is the one who encouraged him to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an apt guidebook for Oscar as he's about to "Enter the Void."
Cowriter (with Lucile Hadzihalilovic)/director Gaspar Noé ("Irreversible") is a divisive and provocative director with an intense audio/visual style that combines amazing continuous crane shots, strobing and unconventional editing with multi-layered sound designs, punk and classical music. His films always contain violence and sex and the seediest edges of society. But there is no mistaking that Noé is an auteur with a unique voice and that his films, however repugnant or laughable they might be at times, are important. "Enter the Void" is a far more compelling rumination on the afterlife than Clint Eastwood's recent misstep "Hereafter." It's a literal head trip, a druggie movie even if seen stone cold sober. It also features characters, like Oscar's sister Linda, who are not likable and should at least be sympathetic (de la Huerta, whose performances seem to based on shedding her clothes, doesn't help). No matter how much Noé claims his siblings aren't incestuous, no normal person will think anything but. It's not normal for an adult woman to parade around topless in front of her brother or sleep naked in the same room and it's definitely pushing the envelope that Oscar enters her lover's body after death and experiences having sex with her. Noé is sensitive to Oscar and Linda's childhood (as played by Jesse Kuhn and Emily Alyn Lind, "All My Children's" Emma, scored to Rockabye lullabys and Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air on the G String"), but Linda arrives in Tokyo, purportedly 'from school,' as a ready made stripper and Oscar screws around with his buddy's mother, a violation of friendship that indirectly causes his death. Welcome to Noé world.
The film begins with assaultive opening credits, strobing to beat the band against loud punk rock. Good luck trying to read them as they flash by. As influenced by the 1947 film "The Lady in the Lake," in which the camera was the protagonist's eyes, our initial immersion is from inside Oscar's head, complete with occasional screen blacks indicating blinking. He talks to his sister from their balcony smack in the middle of Kabukicho, the Shinjuku district's most notorious area. Colored neon lights are everywhere, including the giant 'Enter' sign directly in line of sight from Oscar's tiny, cluttered apartment. She leaves for work (in what looks like a slip) and he tokes up. Alone, Oscar's inner voice is always going, considering this and that, as we take a virtual trip. A knock at the door brings panic as Oscar tries to pull himself together (when he splashes water on his face in the bathroom, his reflection in the mirror is the one and only time we see his face alive in the film's 2.5+ hour run time).
He tells Alex he must deliver drugs to Victor (Olly Alexander, "Bright Star") who is waiting at The Void. Oscar enters the small grubby club where 2001's Stargate sequence plays on a monitor - the film is also referenced in "Irreversible" - and where Victor immediately mumbles 'I'm sorry' as Oscar approaches. He rushes for the tiny toilet to flush the drugs, but when police bang on the door, he announces he has a gun. Bad move. Oscar dies from gunshot wounds in a fetal position around the revolting toilet. We hear his thoughts as he dies, seeing his bloody hands in front of him, gradually blurring. Then his spirit lifts out of his body, observing from above, before flying out into the night, sucked up through the bathroom light. His internal voice is silenced. He is experiencing the chikhai bardo, the first of three stages discussed in Alex's book.
After witnessing the immediate aftermath of his death - his body being removed, Alex fleeing the scene and calling Linda, Linda ignoring the call as she has sex with her boss Mario (Masato Tanno) after having just left his stage - we follow Oscar into stage 2, where he relives his past life and Noé gets to fill in the blanks. Rather than 'flashing before his eyes,' we experience this aspect in a fractured time line that floats amidst hallucinations, a high that is a combination of kaleidoscope (Lucy in the Sky eyes!) and animated biological extractions. Oscar's point of view is now seen from behind his head and we learn more about his relationship with Alex, an artist creating a miniature, blacklit version of Tokyo who is far less malicious than Linda imagines; Bruno (Ed Spear), the real root of evil whose apartment may recall Jeffrey Dahlmer's with its semi-comatose young Asian men; Victor the young British Victor whose ex Go-Go dancer mother Suzy (Sara Stockbridge, "Spider") comes between them; and, most of all, Linda and their mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte), whom Oscar's spirit reunites with most poetically in a plane flying over Tokyo.
Oscar's spirit moves beyond reliving the past, as he observes some events past his death, like the controversial abortion scene where his sister's intact fetus once again conjures Stanley Kubrick's space child. Then he's onto the final stage, 'rebirth,' which, according to Wikipedia, 'features karmically impelled hallucinations' 'typically imagery of men and women passionately entwined.' Oh Noé! Alex, who's been lusting after Linda, meets her in a cab that's off to the Love Hotel of his miniature Tokyo. Oscar floats above room after room of heterosexual sex, the lights which have beckoned his spirit throughout all now emanating from between the legs of women (and, on one instance, from inside the mouth of one performing fellatio, which makes no sense within the bardo's definition). The director goes whole hog here, envisioning copulation and birth from the inside out. 'THE' then 'VOID' end the experience, an intriguing circular reference.
Some have accused Noé of overindulgence, of creating a film that runs out of ideas well before it ends, but the film zipped along for me. While his flying crane shots (cinematography by Benoît Debie, "Irreversible," Hadzihalilovic's "Innocence" with Noé himself credited for camera) are remarkable, his overhead floating shots build in excessiveness over the course of the film, but that's a quibble. Tokyo locations (the film's flash back sequences were shot in Montreal standing in for New York), for which Noé got protection from the Yakuza, are incredible, especially a below street level women's companion club Oscar takes Linda to, full of color and light. The use of light sources, including the platform Linda performs on, are ingenious, the use of breasts obsessive (Noé's mother/whore complex?).
Now that Noé's explored incest, murder, rape and death, what's next? It's intriguing that Oscar asks Bruno if he's got anything stronger than DMT, his drug of choice, a chemical produced in the brain which recent research suggests may be responsible for the 'Near Death Experience.' How much farther can he push the envelope? For now, "Enter the Void" is surely the most unique and masterful film that will ever be inspired by "Lady in the Lake," "2001" and "Tron."
Robin did not see this film.
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