Is it overlong, uneven, repetitive? Maybe. Is Gaspar Noé playing the provocateur card a bit too blatantly at times, revelling in his own excesses? Probably. Is his latest film filled with such sensory overload that even the most dedicated viewer will have trouble processing it all in one gulp? For sure. But at his best, Noé is so far ahead of everyone else that “Enter the Void” remains an absolute must-see, as flawed and exhausting as it can be.
While most directors still adopt a literary or theatrical perspective, focusing on story and acting first, Noé offers us a pure dose of cinema. Visionary, visceral cinema. The concept of shooting the entire film from the protagonist’s point of view is not completely unheard of; in an interview with the Montreal Mirror, Noé has cited the “virtual-reality snuff films” sequences in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” and Jonas Åkerlund’s music video for The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up as possible influences, to which I’d add Julian Schnabel’s “Le Scaphandre et le papillon”, about half of which was shown through the main character’s POV.
Yet “Enter the Void” goes far beyond what those and others accomplished previously, putting us in the protagonist’s head for nearly three hours straight. I should point out at this point that said protagonist is a junkie (Nathaniel Brown) prone to hardcore hallucinations, plus he dies early on so during the bulk of the movie, he wanders like a ghost through the neon nightmare of “Tokyo on acid”… Like in “Irréversible”, Noé bombards us with epileptic flashes of light and color, distorted angles, spinning cameras, long unbroken shots, not to mention generous helpings of graphic sex and violence. Like I said, it’s enough to make even the most adventurous, hardened cinéphile lose his mind, but once you accept that and just let yourself be sucked in by the film and get knocked around as if you were stuck in a pinball machine, you’re in for an experience unlike any you’ve ever had.
Taking cues from the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”, the film also includes a tour de force flashback sequence that must go on for a solid hour, showing us the protagonist’s entire life through a rapid succession of memories… Mixed into all of this is the deep, loving, practically incestuous bond the character has shared with his stripper sister (Paz de la Huerta) since they were orphaned as little kids, and which lives on somewhat even after he dies, as his soul floats in and out of her life…
Undoubtedly, I’m making this sound like a massive mind-fuck, and it is. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m not sure I’d like to! Nonetheless, this is a work of absolute genius, from the boundlessly dynamic cinematography to the dazzling editing and the aggressive sound design. The opening credits sequence alone is more exhilarating that the vast majority of films I’ve seen this year! Don’t think twice about it. ENTER. THE. VOID.