KALEIDOSCOPIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST?
For l-o-n-g minutes at a time during Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, you, the filmgoer, are sure you’ve fallen, not down a rabbit hole, but into a kaleidoscope whose shaft is being manipulated by a madman. All you see on the screen are bright colors, pulsating lights, blankness, whiteness, geometric designs, flower-like images. You hear disembodied voices speaking just below your threshold of comprehension, often in languages unknown to you, while you hear snatches of mostly techno music in the background.
Then there are the camera angles, ingenious, to be sure: much of the film is shot through the eyes of the main character, Oscar, or from a vantage point right behind his head, the camera swooping over the roofs of what is supposedly Tokyo’s seediest district, lingering and lingering and returning to linger some more on grid-like structures, walls, geometric shapes, and sometimes zooming in on round disks (ashtrays?) and disappearing into them.
It’s hard not to feel that these effects, regardless of their intention, serve pretty effectively to alienate, distance and assault the filmgoer. Ok, I get that this is your brain on drugs. But when one’s own brain isn’t, this makes for a basically lousy time at the movies. Did I mention the film runs to nearly 2 ½ hours?
Then there’s the story. “By the way, have you read The Tibetan Book of the Dead?” intones a character half a dozen times. Well, have you? It might help. At the screening I attended, critics refrained from showing their hand, unlike those at Cannes in 2009 who were said to boo loudly.
The assault comes in the form of extreme graphic delight in portraying sexuality, abortion (and its dis-contents), sleazy characters in unseemly acts with baby-faced teenagers, and for the coup de grace, a closeup of a penis penetrating a vagina and a sperm doing the same to an egg.
The good news is that Noé starts off with a potentially decent story. Two American kids, brother and sister, survive foster care following a fatal car crash that killed their parents, and reunite in Tokyo. Sibling bliss is short-lived as boy, Oscar, wannabe dealer, is killed in a drug raid and girl, Linda, aspiring pole dancer, grieves. But he said he’d never leave her! The rest of the story is either Oscar’s drug hallucination caused by DMT which makes him relive his whole life in six minutes or Oscar’s ghost flitting around to see what happens to Linda and see if he can get himself reincarnated (see Tibetan Book).
Noé calls Enter the Void a psychedelic melodrama, an apt description. The acting is good and believable, the structure works well. Oscar, whose face is finally seen reflected in a mirror – we’re shocked at his youth and clueless expression – revisits his major life events in flashbacks, and provides the film with motivation for his subsequent actions. (Up until then, you’re wondering what the hell are these kids doing in Tokyo, where are their parents, and why are they so messed up?) The last shot of the film gives Enter the Void a different meaning than the one you may have assigned it.
The idea of structuring the film on the Tibetan Book of the Dead is interesting, but some if not all of the techniques are heavy handed – Oscar dies in a toilet! Linda gets off the plane from America clutching a teddy bear! Her boyfriend is short and emanates skeeviness. Oscar’s friend , the expert on the TBotD is named Gaspar. No kidding.
But at least we know where the story is going, and if we were able to care about these poor feckless characters, perhaps we’d rejoice that Oscar, finally, finds a womb at the inn to get himself reborn.
janetgarber @ stageandcinema.com
Enter the Void opens Friday, September 24 in select theaters