Enter the Void

Enter the Void ★★★★★

Gaspar Noe's masterpiece Enter the Void is one of the most visually exceptional films ever made. The camera is constantly flowing through each scene as if it were the embodiment of the spectral main character -- never has the camera been more free in a film. Cinematographer Benoît Debie lights the film in colourful neon, elevating the visuals far above the gritty subject matter. The film's appearance moves between a candy-coloured MDMA trip to a bad acid experience; some of the scenes are pretty damn terrifying.

The film's main character dies in the first half hour, and the rest of his film follows his spirit as it drifts between his memories and the people he left behind. The film's "narrative" is roughly based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, however Noe has stated that the film should be viewed as the experience of someone dying while under the influence of DMT and imagining an afterlife similar to The Book of the Dead. Upon my first viewing with friends, we came to the conclusion that the film was entirely his DMT trip, and that he never left his apartment (and thus never died). Perhaps the most important aspect of the film's narrative is that it is open for interpretation, as it is very expressionistic in its facsimile of the main characters memories.

The film's visuals complement the loose narrative, and the odyssey through the afterlife would not be possible without the free-flowing camerawork. Benoît Debie's lighting in the film is so fantastic, and a lot of the emotion in the film comes from the colourful lighting he uses. The intense reds of the bathroom interior make Victor's death more painful, and the neon-palace at the end of the film is ethereal and heavenly. I especially love the scene in which Victor confront's Linda to apologize, as the camera glides over three rooms with different lighting that becomes a darker and more harsh red tone, emphasizing her anger and possible guilt.

Another thing I love about the film is the camera's fascination with circles, whether that be ashtrays, lamps, or any other object. The camera frequently cuts through these lamps to get to another location, or sometimes the screen will be illuminated with intense light that blankets the frame. The circle motif clearly relates to the spiritual cycle that Victor is experiencing, and plays into the rebirth he experiences at the end of the film. I also love the way in which the film's title is displayed in two halves, once at the beginning of the film and then to close the film. To me this alludes to the narrative infinity that the film is portraying, as I feel as though the ending (which is the beginning of a life) can lead into the way the film opens (which is the lead-up to death). The film is an infinite loop that completes itself and never ends, the film version of Finnegans Wake (although perhaps not as dense or intelligent as Joyce's masterpiece, Noe's film is perhaps the closest one can get to a filmic equivalent, with its lush and subversive style and form).

My only complaint against the film is that the soundtrack isn't particularly memorable. Irreversible has an amazing soundtrack, likely because of the involvement of Thomas Bangalter (one half of Daft Punk). He was originally approached to do the soundtrack for Enter the Void, but was unable to because it conflicted with his schedule (he was doing Tron Legacy at the time). Because of this, the music in Enter the Void is very minimal and in no way memorable, however it is clear that one's life has no soundtrack and thus the absence of music works within the narrative of the film. The low ambiance sounds very good though, and it definitely underscores the visceral response to the more abstract imagery. However, I do believe that if Bangalter were involved this film would be the perfect audio-visual experience.

Enter the Void is an amazingly visceral visual experience, in which the style of the film perfectly complements the emotional journey of the characters. Rarely does a film offer such an immense and captivating visual palette, and Noe is able to craft his imagery without detracting from the narrative. The film is a rollercoaster of emotions (and contains a literal rollercoaster ride from a first-person perspective), and the repeated imagery of the car-crash scene is some of the most real and horrific scene construction I have ever experienced. The film is almost exploitative for how well it guides the viewer and controls their emotions, but when a film is this beautiful it becomes far too easy to ignore its faults.