Review: Enter the Void

Seen at the IFC Center in New York.
Written and Directed by Gaspar Noé

First of all, the opening credits: Phenomenal in and of themselves. Worth sitting through all the pre-show commercials to get a good seat for them, and in time. Second-for-second, more intense than the movie itself, which is not without its intensity.

It took watching only a few minutes of this movie for me to set aside most of my conventional measures of how a movie should be shaped and what one should look like. In the first section of the movie we have “enter”ed the head of Oscar, an American living in Tokyo. We hear his voice muddled as if it’s our own – frustrating at first but quickly no issue, helped along by the slowness and scarcity of his speech (he actually sounds much like the goateed Nick Groff of Ghost Adventures). Oscar’s sharing an apartment with his sister, Linda, who soon heads off to work. Oscar is reluctant to call himself a drug dealer, but he’s certainly also a drug user. When his sister leaves, we join him on a trip, beautifully incorporated and rendered. It’s interrupted by a phone call from a friend of his, Victor, who asks that Oscar bring some stuff to a place called “The Void.” Oscar is met at his apartment by his friend, Alex, and they walk over to the bar together.

The action picks up, but so does the artistry. The perspective remains first person, but shifts among point-of-view, over-the-shoulder and overhead shots. We’re in Oscar’s body, and we’re not; we’re in the present and the past. The relentless linearity of time in the first “act,” communicated by its really being one long take, becomes occasionally more disjointed. It becomes a stream of consciousness and the memories we see are joined together because of the similarities of the situations. Other scenes play out more straightforwardly. In any event, the scenes are all strung together, either geographically by scanning over Tokyo to find the next one, or by zooming into some kind of light, in both cases the interconnectedness of all things in time and space being firmly put forth.

The movie is almost two and a half hours long, and judging by how many of my neighbors checked their watches, felt even longer. But I didn’t take that as a bad thing; I let this movie take me where it wanted to take me without being impatient about it and felt rewarded for it. Enter the Void is effective for reasons generally opposed to those benefitting American movies, in which economy is normally key – showing instead of telling, letting the viewer’s mind do the work, knowing that less is usually more. This movie, at the theatre, was an immersive experience possibly not unlike that of Room 23 – the visuals were wonderful, the stylized colors of Tokyo were amazing, the camerawork almost magical. Some of it might have been needlessly complicated or overlong, but I went with it because it seemed the choice not only of an indulgent director, but of the character himself. We’re on a voyage with him and I was curious to see where it would end up (which, maybe because of the simplicity of the narrative, was somewhat predictable). The getting there, and the way there, are what’s important.

The movie isn’t all beautiful – parts are also violent, shocking, brutal, gruesome, scary. In another inversion of a longstanding trend in American movies, violence was only saddening, not also enjoyable as it can be in its stylized way. Sex, hardly ever shown without its emotional component, is seen as the more natural and redeeming of the pair. Violence, as it’s realistically shown, seems to exist only to ruin a good thing.

Objectively, the movie is a little short on story, the dialogue is a little stilted, and the acting too often takes a back seat to the effects. But movies don’t always have to be all about those things. I don’t think it’s too far to compare this one with 2001: A Space Odyssey. This movie affected me differently, perhaps more profoundly, than most movies do. I mean it as a compliment when I say not since Avatar did I see a movie and have no clue how anyone could make it, logistically. Now, my lack of understanding doesn’t by default make Enter the Void a great movie, but my awe goes a long way. The novelty involved was all directed towards one hell of a trip that, details aside, tackles some pretty fundamental questions and stunningly so.

In brief: A mindbender without a lot of the usual mystery. Better to just go with it. Recommended for viewing in a theatre or on the biggest, loudest damn TV you can find.
3.5 stars/4 (A-)

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