Just say no to this bad trip
By Jen Chaney
Friday, November 12, 2010
"Enter the Void" is filmmaker-provocateur Gaspar Noe's attempt to transport moviegoers to a hallucinatory version of the hereafter unlike anything they've ever witnessed on film. Technically, his attempt is a success; watching this 137-minute nightmarish acid trip through the life and afterlife of a young drug dealer is certainly an immersive experience that's decidedly difficult to shake. The problem is that it's also the most excruciating sit in recent cinematic memory. And no, the fact that it's intentionally excruciating doesn't make it less excruciating.
"Enter the Void" focuses on an aimless distributor of mind-altering substances named Oscar, played by newcomer Nathaniel Brown. Or to put it more accurately, played by the back of Nathaniel Brown's head. For much of the film, the camera remains perched just a few inches behind our protagonist's cranium, allowing us to see what Oscar sees as he trips out in his Tokyo studio apartment, debates the meaning of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" with his equally tripped-out friend Alex and, early in the film, gets shot and winds up bleeding to death on the grungy bathroom floor of a bar called - you guessed it - the Void.
The plot, if one can call it that, then proceeds to follow Oscar's spirit on a journey through his childhood; his recent past, as well as the recent past of his stripper sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta); and the future that awaits as he crosses over from life to death and, perhaps, back again. Oh, we also get to follow Oscar on random detours that might involve, say, a brief but graphic peek at an abortion being performed, or a five-minute interlude that consists of nothing but imagery of colorful, kaleidoscopic lights. Yes, this is that kind of movie, one crafted with genuine technical skill but completely pretentious in an "I just ate a funky mushroom and let's see what happens" kind of way. It just goes on and on and on and - wait! Nope, still going - on, making us feel decidedly tense about which unholy vision Noe will unveil next, while simultaneously lulling us into the sort of boredom normally reserved for prisoners stuck in solitary confinement. Never has the word fast-forward whispered the potential for such bliss.
Noe - the Argentine-born French filmmaker who directed "Irreversible," a film that gained notoriety for its brutal rape scene - admittedly does astonishing things with point of view, allowing the camera to both soar above and penetrate the action with an unflinching freedom that is sometimes fascinating, and at other times disturbing and just plain unnecessary. The movie is like a strange hybrid of "Trainspotting" and "The Lovely Bones" with a dash of "Lady in the Lake" - a 1947 film noir that was shot from one character's point of view and influenced Noe's approach - added in for proper, head-spinning measure.
In a strange way, though, Noe's piece of work is one of those motion pictures that makes you glad to be alive. Upon leaving the theater, you'll undoubtedly bask in the knowledge that you have a long, productive existence ahead of you, one that won't require watching a single additional frame of "Enter the Void."
Contains graphic imagery of a sexual and violent nature.