Well, considering that I've recently purchased a box set of Hou Hsiao-Hsien films that I'm doggedly working my way through, I was hoping my next Something Dan Watched post would cover something a little more prestigious or, you know, respectable. Instead, less than a week after covering Liquid Sky, I find myself discussing another trippy, drug-conscious, offbeat cult oddity: Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void, which just came to D.C.'s new West End Cinema this past weekend.
Enter The Void isn't really about its plot, so much as it is about its style, but let me briefly synopsize anyway. It tells the story of Oscar, an American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his younger sister. One night, a drug deal goes bad, and Oscar ends up getting shot to death by the cops. For more movies that would be the end, but things continue as Oscar's soul leaves his body. It experiences a strange journey, watching over Oscar's friends and family, reliving the formative experiences of his life, and eventually SPOILER being reincarnated as his sister's son. Or, as the film hints, this all may just be a hallucination Oscar experiences as he lays dying on the bathroom floor of a sleazy club known at The Void.
Like I said, though, it's not so much about the story as it is about the way Noe tells it. Enter the Void is the most stylistically rigid and all-around ballsy film I've seen in theaters this year. The whole film is shown as Oscar's subjective experience: the early scenes, when he's alive, are filmed from Oscar's POV, as though the camera was his eyes (this includes frequent black frames to suggest blinking, and a spectacular sequence where he does some heavy hallucinogens and trips for a while); after he dies, the camera assumes a weightless, god's-eye-view perspective as it flies around Tokyo, passing through solid objects like walls and people, as Oscar watches over the people from his life; the life-flashing-before-his-eyes scenes are filmed from directly behind Oscar, never showing his face, almost like you might see in some video games.
The only previous Noe film I've seen was his controversial Irreversible, which was so nihilistic and intent on rubbing the audience members' faces in filth and human misery that it was almost comical... yet I still respected its ambitious visual style and structure, in which the scenes were show in reverse chronological order, and each was staged as one continuous, elaborate take. Enter The Void spectacularly brings that one-take style to its most insane extreme (some shots are designed to appear "continuous" for what seemed to me to be nearly a half hour or so in length).
I've read several valid complaints about this movie, criticizing that it is style over substance, that the actual story of the film isn't as interesting as the visuals, that Noe includes too much of his trademark human degradation and miserableness. Those folks have a point. The screenplay never much bothers for subtlety (minutes before Oscar's death, he and a friend discuss the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and everything they discuss directly correlates to what happens to him in death) and I do think the exhilaration I felt during much of the filmed flagged about 90-minutes-ish in when it focused for too long on Oscar's friends and family in the aftermath of his death. Yet there's something about Noe's balls-out, go-for-broke style that redeems these flaws. Although I've gathered that Noe shares my lack of religious beliefs, and that the spiritual components of the film are ultimately just Oscar experiencing the "ultimate trip," as chemicals flood his brain as he dies, there's something about the way Noe conflates death, spiritualism, hallucination, subjectivism, reincarnation, etc., as different ways of looking at the same thing that makes the film energizing. It should be a downer but it feels like a positive experience.
Many will (perhaps rightly) hate this film, but those who appreciate bold aesthetic statements will find it was at least worth watching. (Also, I'm pretty sure this is going to be a cult item amongst stoners for years to come.) The best I can describe Enter the Void: it's like a four-way collision between Wings of Desire, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lady in the Lake and a Stan Brakhage short, and yet it's still not quite like anything you've seen.