ENTER THE VOID
Gaspar Noe has intended Enter the Void to exist as a sensory experience. The script is almost an irrelevancy; the film exists all in the visuals that Gaspar Noe throws at us. Noe readily plays with experimental techniques just to try something off the visual mainstream. One of the most unique tactics is the use of a first-person camera point-of-view wherein the camera stands in for someones eyes we see the hero (Nathaniel Brown) from behind his back, the camera in effect standing in the same place he does throughout, and join his spirit as he departs into the afterlife. Noe was reportedly inspired by the film noir Lady in the Lake (1947) where the entire film had the camera taking an investigating detectives point-of-view. This technique has been employed in a number of other films of recent including Russian Ark (2002), Metamorphosis (2010), Maniac (2012) and Hardcore Henry (2015). Noe says that the film was written without any dialogue, which he allowed the cast to improvise there are long in-camera scenes following actors through the streets where they have clearly ad-libbed their dialogue. Yet at the same time as there is a ragged improvisational quality to the film, it is also tightly controlled as every seemingly random character reference and piece of dialogue maps back over onto something else during the flashbacks.
If the substance of Enter the Void sometimes wavers the flashback scenes are largely plotless and seem to go on probably some 30-45 minutes longer than they need to then the film exists triumphally in terms of the beauty of its visuals. Tokyo is transformed into a world that feels akin to a nightclub lit up in Day Glo colours. These saturate the film from the urban sprawl outside the window, the interiors of nightclubs, the subjective drug hallucinations and the abstract visuals as Nathaniel Brown departs into the afterlife. It is as though one is being bodily transported into something akin to the world of Tron (1982). Indeed, Enter the Void could almost be seen as the antithesis of Lost in Translation (2003) where both films concern Americans dislocated in Japan, Gaspar Noe rejects Sofia Coppolas quirky sweetness and embraces the underbelly of the culture; where Lost in Translation was about people connecting, Enter the Void seems about a painful aloneness.
Gaspar Noe is a fan of Stanley Kubrick and much of Enter the Void feels like his own personal attempt to homage 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The homage is clear in several scenes toward the ending where we see a penis ejaculate into a vagina, follow the rush of semen and then see the fertilisation of an egg before the hero is reborn into a new body. This sequence appears to have been consciously intended by Noe as an analogue of the 2001 light trip the images of a rush through a transcendental void of lights; the sperm hovering before the egg like a tiny ship in orbit around a vast planet; and both films climaxing with the birth of a new form of life. This is however very much a 2001 that has been reworked for the 00s Ecstasy and trance culture generation as Cyril Roy says to Nathaniel Brown at one point: Its like dying would be the ultimate trip, eh? It is a vision born less from evolution of consciousness as it is out of drug haze and a supermarket sampling of Eastern mysticism (the Tibetan Book of the Dead features heavily both in terms of references in the film and in Gaspar Noes conception of it). You could perhaps also see the inspiration of other 2001-influenced films such as Altered States (1980), which leaps off into drug experimentation and a quest for the ultimate meaning of life, and Brainstorm (1983), which harnessed 2001s light trips for a vision as someone departed their body to head into the afterlife. Almost identical Kubrickian allusions appear in Gaspar Noes Irreversible where a 2001 poster hovers with symbolic effect and there is the sense that time is being reversed to eventually head into what could be the same void of nothingness that the title here alludes to.
Gaspar Noes other films have all been brutal and confrontational, uneasy experiences that take the audience into raw places. Enter the Void has been called his most accessible and mainstream film yet. It is not quite, although perhaps what critics mean is that the raw, confrontational tactics of Noes earlier films are much more subdued here. There are still the tactics designed to shake up expectations of a film the end credits play at the start of the film, for instance, and come fast, in bold vibrant type accompanied by a pounding soundtrack that seems to leap out of the screen to assault you. There are still plenty of the sex scenes familiar to Gaspar Noes other films with Paz de la Huerta spending much of the film in a state of undress. Nevertheless, Enter the Void is a film whose substantive qualities are meditative rather than emotionally raw or focused on the harsh realities of life.
(Nominee for Best Director (Gaspar Noe) at this sites Best of 2009 Awards).