Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)

In her review for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis writes, “If you care about strong stories, don’t bother. Hardly anything happens here in conventional movie terms…”.  I disagree.  Although its narrative certainly isn’t conventional, as it’s told entirely from the first-person perspective of Tokyo-bound drug dealing/abusing American Oscar, both living and dead (though from the back of his head when glimpsing flashes of his past), the story of his life, death, and afterlife is told in a way that I feel covers a lot more ground than a more conventional narrative.  The first segment, a sort of day-in-the-life – style glimpse of Oscar’s life in a squalid apartment with his stripper sister Linda, doesn’t tell us much about this kid, but enough to intrigue.  After his death at the hands of trigger-happy cops, the collage of flashbacks and then what is presumably Oscar’s spirit drifting through Tokyo, overseeing the people he left behind, we’re presented with subjective, deeply personal information that a more objective, traditional narrative wouldn’t be privy to.  A different film would let us know that Oscar and Linda were deeply scarred by the car accident that gruesomely killed their parents, but Noé’s disjointed narrative, going back and forth through Oscar’s past as you’d imagine one’s life would flash before his or her eyes at the moment of death, repeating and emphasizing certain images like the accident, tell us just how much they were scarred.  The little snippets of past, presented in no real chronological order, give us just enough background and foundation into the story and the lives of the characters to make the present much more relevant.  Sure, the incestuous desire between Oscar and Linda is played up ad nauseam to the point of tedium, but nevertheless, the moment in which Oscar’s noncorporeal spirit enters the back of the head of the sleazy strip club proprietor / Linda’s employer while he’s screwing her, so that both Oscar and we are essentially screwing his very sister from the first person perspective, is a disturbing but psychologically captivating one, as Oscar, now dead, can finally fulfill his forbidden desires/fantasies without consequence.  Ironically, once Oscar becomes a silent, invisible, flying camera lens, his deepest fears, desires, and instincts become that much more tangible.

The psychadelic finale, with lots of people having lots of sex amongst lots of neon lights and mystical crotch-auras, may be overkill, despite being a technical marvel (and takes a page directly out of Spielberg’s Minority Report), but that sequence, as well as what immediately precedes it as Alex’s spirit/eyes transition between reality and a light-filled void, could represent his slipping further and further from our reality and into what lies beyond.  This certainly was not the 2 ½ hour completely non-narrative, drug-fueled, Brakhage-esque light-and-color fest I was expecting, as the busy-as-hell camera, flamboyant purgatory of Tokyo, and disintegration of the major players in Oscar’s life allow us to attach our own subjectivity to the silent camera that is the first-person perspective of Alex’s spirit, making our subjectivity his, and thus making an otherwise unexceptional story of a druggie’s death and how it affects the other losers who associated with him a lot more interesting than it ought to be.  This will be an incredibly divisive film, no doubt.  Those it doesn’t click with could hopefully, at the least, admire it as a technical marvel, despite its (literally) dizzying repetitions, both storywise and camerawise. For everyone else, this could be the future of cinematic narrative storytelling.


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