AKA: Soudain le Vide
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander, Masato Tanno, Ed Spear, Emily Alyn Lind, Jesse Kuhn, Nobu Imai, Sakiko Fukuhara, Janice Béliveau-Sicotte, Sara Stockbridge, Stuart Miller, Emi Takeuchi, Federico Aletta, Simon Chamberland, Edward L. Papazian
Running Time: 161 min.
Lately it seems like certain controversial films are premiered at Cannes, creating outrage among French audiences, only to be unceremoniously dumped on DVD a year or two later in the US after all the hubbub has died down. Perhaps this is for the best: by the time I sat down to watch “Enter the Void” on blu-ray, I had heard every opinion you can imagine regarding the film. Some said it was the most offensive trash to come down the pike in ages, others claimed it was visual nirvana; while some said it was just plain boring. In other words, I had no idea what to expect as I popped the movie in.
“Enter the Void” is an experience. And it’s not a passive one, like most movie-watching experiences. If you let the film work its magic, you’ll be taken on a journey for 161 minutes, soaring over the cityscape of Tokyo and ending up in a place beyond life or death. We all want to know what happens after we die. This film actually dares to try and show you. All from a filmmaker who openly admits he’s not religious at all.
Say what you want about Gasper Noe, the French director behind “I Stand Alone,” “Irreversible,” and this film. Call him a genius auteur or a trash provocateur. Either way, I’d argue that it’s important for the future of film as an artform that the man continue to make movies. There is simply no one else in the world creating cinema quite like this.
Okay, I’m going to try and stop talking in hyperbole for a little bit. What is “Enter the Void” about? It’s about a young kid named Oscar, a Canadian expatriate now living in Tokyo. He has a keen interest in drugs, particularly of the hallucinogenic variety such as DMT, and has taken to selling them in order to make a living and raise enough money for his estranged sister’s plane ticket. He’s also fallen in with a fellow English-speaking crowd in Tokyo: artists on the fringe, twitchy suburban kids, and flat-out junkies, who all share an interest in drug culture. One friend, named Alex, is trying to turn Oscar on to the Tibetan Book of the Dead: an 8th century text that seeks to illuminate what happens to our consciousness after death.
Tragedy strikes. I won’t spoil anything here but the unique thing about “Enter the Void” is that Gasper Noe went to great lengths to show the entire film from Oscar’s POV. We either see everything directly from his first-person perspective or the camera remains locked behind Oscar’s head. When soul leaves body, things get even more visually spectacular as Oscar’s spirit becomes the ultimate voyeur, flying over all of Tokyo and dropping in on any conversation he likes.
The camera work, computer effects, and editing required to make us believe we are inhabiting someone’s soul as they travel above a mega-metropolis like Tokyo – I mean, the feat is really astounding when you think about it. And they pulled it off! In my mind, this is the ideal way CG imagery should be used in film. Here the computer trickery actually enhances the storytelling and places you further into the world of movie.
I loved the characters in “Enter the Void.” They felt like real people to me, especially the troubled Victor, who has to deal with some pretty complex emotions over the course of the film. Alex, the aging artist, was great too. I’m a big fan of transgressive writers like Dennis Cooper and the way that this film weaved together the lives of several genuine-feeling characters made it the closest I’ve come to watching an experimental novel adapted to the screen.
Given that most of the cast are non-professionals or first time actors, you do have to deal with some stilted line readings. Many have accused Gasper Noe of paying more attention to the visuals of the film than the performances of his cast. It is certainly a far cry from “Irreversible,” which starred Vincent Cassel, one of the best actors working today. But I’ve always believed these dark, underground films lend themselves to less-than-perfect acting since it comes across as more authentic.
The ambient soundtrack and neon-lit visuals make “Enter the Void” a feast for the senses. Of course, it’s a Gasper Noe film so sex is frequently a topic; and there are several explicit scenes during the film. I’d argue that it’s in keeping with the realism of the film – most of these characters are young kids so of course they’re going to be thinking about and having sex quite a bit – but some people may find all the bumping ‘n grinding, especially during the hallucinatory Love Hotel scene (which I thought was spectacular), to be a bit gratuitous.
There are two cuts of this movie. I rented the blu-ray because it contains the 161 minute version. The version shown on Netflix Instant streaming is in HD but about 20 minutes shorter at 143 minutes. I’m glad I saw the longer cut the first time around but Gasper Noe himself has admitted you don’t miss much without that reel of the movie. So, really, the choice is up to you.
Some people are able to will themselves to have an out-of-body experience through intense meditation. For the rest of us, there’s “Enter the Void.” Much like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” if you give yourself over to this movie and resist the temptation to press fast-forward during the slow parts, you’ll be rewarded with the ultimate cinematic trip. No drugs required.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 10/10