Enter the Void

Enter the Void ★★★

Enter the Void. Think the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey extended for 2-1/2 hours and you wouldn't be far off the mark. Like 2001, the film's plot is an excuse to wander into a world of visual effects.

Gaspar Noé wanted to explore the first person perspective in cinema and he wanted to create a psychedelic hypnotic film that would force its audience to simply feel.

He succeeded.

The film assaults you from the opening credits to the end, with its Tokyo-neon colours, paroxysmal strobe-light effects, dancing camera movements, and hypnotic trance-like soundscape. The first person perspective adds immediacy to these effects, allowing the audience to imagine the experiences are theirs rather than Oscar's. The film envelops the audience fully and completely, not letting it look away even for an instant.

If the film were simply about showing what it looks like to be under the influence of drugs it would have lost its lustre fairly quickly, but Noé focused on something everyone is curious about: what happens when we die. That's the hook. That is why the film works. You can present almost anything at this point, as long as the audience is willing to allow itself to meander along with Oscar's soul. To prevent disengagement Noé's score is hypnotic enough to lull you, and if that fails to capture his rapid-fire noisy visuals are sure to prevent you from looking away.

It all works perfectly for 90 minutes.

The experience then changes based on Oscar's soul presumably looking for a way to reincarnate, and this is where Noé shows a lack of imagination. He takes reincarnation to mean being born again in the literal sense, and Noé has nothing more up his sleeve other than to show women as vessels. We see the act of sex in all of its forms, over and over again. He looks at every inch of a woman's body from the outside and the inside showing everything he can think of that has to do with reproduction, including an aborted foetus, giving birth, breast-feeding, the inevitable sequence of a sperm trying to get into the egg (rolls eyes) and a shot of a penis in a vagina taken from within the vagina which was not only unnecessary but felt out of place, like he took the shot only because he was proud of having figured out how to do it. And yes, Oscar gets born again (another eye roll).

While watching this last hour I began to dislike not only the film but the film maker. It occurred to me that it wasn't just in this last hour that women were being used, but throughout the entire film. There isn't a woman in this film who isn't a sexual object, including sisters and mothers. Women are always naked and their roles are defined by their bodies: the mother is breast-feeding the baby, the other mother is having sex with Oscar, the dancers (including his sister) are strippers who go on to have sex with whomever walks into their change room, countless women are having sex or giving birth (fully naked) or having abortions (fully naked). Even in scenes where it is presumably familial, with just Oscar and his sister talking about whatever it is they are talking about, she's half naked with her breast out of her flimsy bikini top. Seriously?

Of course we are so used to seeing women naked all the time that my point may be lost, so imagine seeing this film again but where Oscar and all of the men are always naked or walking around in bikini shorts that can't quite contain the package and don't forget to include a scene where one guy is sitting naked sharing a sandwich with his sister while taking about their childhood.

If it weren't for that last hour I could have forgiven Noé's portrayal of Linda (Oscar's sister) in the first 90 minutes or so. Despite a dislike of psychedelic films that portray drug use (which I tend to find too easy and quite boring) I was thoroughly captured by Enter the Void. That says something. But that last hour was so unimaginative and so, well, if not offensive then so incredibly immature that I'm finding it difficult to not let it sour the first part of the film.

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