Thursday, September 30, 2010

Out Of Your Body And Into The Fire

Enter The Void(2009)

Directed By Gaspar Noe

Enter The Void is the story of Oscar a late teens early twenty something drug dealer living in Tokyo. Oscar lives with his estranged sister Linda, after the two were orphaned by a car crash as children.

The film opens with some brief introductions, including introducing Oscar to his drug of choice DMT (which is described as being similar to the experience of death), of which Oscar has become obsessed since reading the Tibetan Book Of The Dead.

The interest in near death experience as “the ultimate trip” grows like so many of Oscars desires, fears, and fantasies from his parents death, an event which plays out again and again the film; as a traumatic scar that never closes, even in death.

After a six minute trip full of spiraling layers of shapes, patterns, and what look like deep sea fish in a fluorescent microscope, Oscar is abruptly shot to death in the bathroom of a bar called “The Void, whereupon his soul leaves his body floating sideways into the night sky, through walls, and even into other people’s bodies.

The film is divided into four parts, the first Oscar’s death told in 1st person pov, the second Oscar’s life leading up to his death where we observe the back of Oscar’s head within the frame, the third the lives of those affected by Oscar’s death shown through over the shoulder ariel shots of Oscar's soul as it flys over the city, and the final a trip through the “Hotel Love” a partially imaginary place where all the film’s characters have sex with each other in the various red tinted rooms while their genitals are surrounded by phospherent hallows of undulating color.

Enter The Void is a strange film, but dismissive critics will overstate it’s strangeness as pointless provocation. As sui generis as the film feels while experiencing it directly, a film from the perspective of a ghost is not unheard of from “Ghost” to “The Lovely Bones”, only where those films told us what such an experience would be like “Enter The Void” makes us feel the out of body experience, as close to firsthand as you can get without dismemberment.

“Enter The Void” is a character study but one of a character who is at a point in his existence when “personality” simply is no longer an issue.

The second portion of the film showcases some of Gaspar Noe’s talent as editor as it’s essentially a sustained stream of conscious montage (like something you would find a New Wave film from Alain Resnais) creating a network of desires from Oscar’s mother’s death to his guilt over abandoning his sister, to an affair with an older women (which directly causes his eventual death), from the earliest notions of Freudian pleasure suckling at his mother’s breast to his later day oral obsessive drug habit (smoking, pills, etc), his destruction is built into his desires and back again, many times over.

Noe goes through pains, some would say to the point of destroying the film with repetition to stress these points, as George Bataille transformed eggs and urine from emblems of his own traumatic childhood into obsessive erotic rituals for his character’s to live out in his own French transgressive classic "Story Of The Eye", so does Noe reveal his wounded characters with reoccurring images of a car crashed and lips reaching for an exposed breast (If your recalling Cronenberg’s “Crash” your not mistaken).

Many have commented on the film’s incestuous content. (SPOILER) Linda pines for Oscar in life, but he rejects her, though in death he’s unbound to enter the bodies of her lovers, eventually going so far as to enter into her womb and be reincarnated as her child. For many this is the ultimate act of perversion on the film’s part (complete with special effects shot of the camera is from the pov of inside of a women’s cervix, where we watch a penis ejaculate a tidal wave of sperm that fills the vaginal canal, and washes over the camera).(SPOILEROVER)

Some have accused the film and Noe of being obsessed with the ugly side of life; abortion, murder, drug use etc. And this would almost pass did the film not end in literal rebirth (certainly the most optimistic end of any Noe film so far). Likewise the film has been called “nihilistic”, ignoring that the existence of the soul and reincarnation are tangible aspects of the plot, or that said “rebirth” taking place in the “love” hotel, where sex makes everyone glow like angels.

They will mention that a character has an abortion (which we do witness), but not that we also witness her give birth later, once she is at least to our superficial understanding (in a better relationship; ei not with her sleazy strip club boss). In an early conversation that makes the Tibetan Book of the Dead sound like a cooking recipe, it is explained that there is “nowhere else but the World. Forever and ever”. Despite the mystical backdrop, the world of "Enter The Void" is still materialist composed of euphoria, sex, and the sorrows we inflict on each other-but still worth clinging to even as the light conspires to pull us away.

I suspect the mistaken attribution of nihilism to the film stems from this lack of any non-Earthbound transcendence. The same lust that lead Oscar to his death, lead his soul into a new body, and the Karmic keeps on-a-spinning with no end in sight.

Oscar spends most of the third acts trying to avoid floating into sources of light, which the camera is pulled into the way light is sucked into a black hole, the image warping and bulging at the seams as it descends.

This admittedly is tiresome at first until one adjusts to the rhythms of the vortex, and realizes that this neutral space within the “light-holes” which also resembles placenta, is also the world of non-being(the spiritual gateways) Oscar must resist in order to cling to the physical world (as the film goes on the camera more and more clearly pulls out of this space in order to return to the world of the present/living).

Though not explicitly stated this is part of Oscar’s constant struggle to remain close to Linda (whom he has sworn to never abandon). Each time the camera returns rises out of a void, Oscar is resurrecting himself to complete his quest. If the two were not brother and sister, Oscar’s final act might seem the genuine act of love and devotion (an attempt to keep if not his consciousness, than at least his soul close to hers) it is intended to be, and not just a taboo being violated for shock's sake, as the knee-jerk response might lead you to believe.

Perhaps the fact that the film is English language has made reviewers forget the film’s director is French, and to my knowledge anyway brother sister incest in French films(especially the ones with adjectives like "art" or "extreme") is like cowboy hats and six guns in American’s westerns, they may not be objects which the films are "all about", but no one with any familiarity with the genre's would find them out of place in the background(or foreground).

“I must report that I recently paid another visit to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001’ while under the influence of a smoked substance that I was assured by my contact was somewhat stronger and more authentic than oregano. (For myself, I must confess that I soar infinitely higher on vermouth cassis, but enough of this generation gap.) Anyway, I prepared to watch ‘2001’ under what I have always been assured were optimum conditions, and surprisingly (for me) I find myself reversing my original opinion. ‘2001’ is indeed a major work by a major artist.”-Andrew Sarris

There was a time when "serious" critics like Andrew Sarris considered Kubrick’s “2001” little more than trumped up hippie freak out cinema.

Ask yourself if it’s vague ideas about human transformation and evolution wrapped in the Star-child; a fetus in the empty womb of space or it’s ten minute psychedelic worm hole, are any more ridiculous than glowing sex angels and a water wall of ejaculate.

As I sat in the theater awaiting the movie to start I watched a series of mumble core trailers, each quirkier and more lo-fi than the last and it seemed a horrible irony that they should lead into such a deliriously hi-fi, high visual smorgasbord like “Enter the Void”. Like homely flag girls doing warm ups for the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, as inspiring at as it was to see the Do-It-Yourself ethos in action, it was almost pathetic how outmatched, outclassed, and just outdone and small, those little movies seemed next to something so uniquely cinematic.

ETV is the kind of film you cannot be impartial to, it makes demands and challenges on the viewer. For anyone to not be impressed with its cinematography, editing, sound, and special effects they would either have to be disingenuous or incredibly narrow in their tastes. The psychological underpinnings of Oscar’s motivations are repeated so many times, I’m almost lost for words when I read critics describe the film as incomprehensible.

An argument could be made that if anything it lacks some the intellectual bite of “Irreversible”, but in my opinion makes up for it in technical mastery and for the first time in Noe, some human optimism.

By comparison to his previous films which featured 10 minute anal rape scenes or a man delivering a monologue about what his life would be if he has sex with his mentally handicapped daughter, some unmanifested Oedipal desires in EVT are like a breath of fresh air in the sweatiest dankest leather gimp outfit.

The only film which approaches its philosophical strangeness is Hatoshi Matsumoto’s “Symbol”, but the visual gusto of EVT is not like its Japanese peer rooted in animation (with the exception of the dayglo tinkertoy Tokyo of the film's end) or the absurd but in neo-realism.

EVT is less a surrealist film as it is neo-realism taken to its logical extreme where the interor geography of the subject is as meticulously recorded as his external enviornment.

“Enter The Void” may wear the temporal skin of a drug film, but beneath the veneer of fear and loathing, is a soul searing with inventive cinematic flair and a desire to push towards the limits of an art form, eroding boundaries between mental states as it straddles genre lines between psychedelic ghost story and perverse love story like “Wings Of Desire” hovering on the painted clouds of Stan Brakhage.

The void is full of wonders.


LEAVES said...

(At the end the mother we see is Oscar's mother - Noé filmed two versions, but picked that one. Thus, he is not born to his sister, it is either a reflection or he returns to live his own life (or his sister's - perhaps this is the more sensible one, since he promises never to leave her).

Joe Sylvers said...

That's felt like the emphasis was on the sister giving birth, shots of sister and her baby,etc, but that's interesting. Oscar's "rebirth", being a reflection or reel to reel moebius point where the end returns to the beginning of himself. Or equally the possibility that he and his sister are the same soul in two different bodies, yearning to be together/complete. I can understand how he could shoot multiple endings, neither seem to change too much. The sister baby ending(if there is such an ending at all) would seem the simplest.

Thanks for your comment LEAVES, stop by anytime.