Tim's Movie Challenge Review
This week’s Movie Challenge was submitted by a fellow film critic and a former coworker of mine - Josh Glasgow of Glasgowtothemovies.com. This week I’m taking a gander at some crazy French film called Enter the Void. It was made in 2009 by Gaspar Noe, who also directed the uncomfortable Irreversible (you know... that movie where the chick from The Matrix gets raped for like an hour in a hallway).
The first thing you need to know about Enter the Void is that it’s approach is very original as opposed to the standard narrative format. Most movies develop as they go, as if it in real time but you are eavesdropping - you’re the third wheel if you must. Enter the Void is entirely told from a first person perspective - like Fallout 3 basically or any other first-person shooter you play (or don’t play). At several moments throughout the viewing of this film, I found myself thinking I was in that Prodigy video “Smack My Bitch Up” from the 90s.
Perhaps it’s an homage to the psychedelic years, or maybe there’s a twist of Hunter S. Thompson in the motive, but I assure you Enter the Void is not your standard hippie out, swirly oil paints, bright flashing lights - “Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you” - it’s just very euphoric in a way. I’ve been listening to this psychedelic rock band recently called Tame Impala, the song “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” which popped into my head several times while watching this film. Also, I watched this after a near 7 hour run of Resident Evil 6, which depicts lots of spider-like creatures. If you’ve seen Enter the Void, you’d have a good idea of the synchronicity there. The opening credits were somewhat nauseating, they reminded me of Scott Pilgrim and a little bit of Crank. If you’ve seen these movies or listening to the music I’ve referenced, then you should be able to visualize essentially what Enter the Void is.
You get a strong sense of confinement as soon as the film begins. Despite the open air of Tokyo being the setting, there’s a claustrophobia while you share the world with Oscar - its almost as if we’ve switched to Being John Malkovich with more than one person occupying your head, and one doesn’t belong. You are the one who doesn’t belong but you’ve come along for the ride so you should just enjoy it. While on this ride though, it can be very frustrating. Our drug dealer protagonist spends a lot of time looking at the ground - a good technique to show how insecure our “hero” is.
I’m using the word “hero” loosely here though. It’s obvious Oscar is not an upstanding citizen, he’s a drug dealer. An American drug dealer with French friends in a French film set in Tokyo, it has all the makings for a bad guy - but Oscar isn’t bad, he’s just a kid. Like so many other kids out there, he has no idea what he’s doing. This is why when he stops to make a deal with someone, he’s busted by the police and ultimately shot through the chest and dies - 30 minutes into the movie.
It’s a bold approach to the narrative - to kill off your main character 30 minutes into the film. Of course this isn’t meant to be a film about Oscar as told by Oscar, this is a film about Oscar as seen by Oscar. Now instead of going into the logistics and arguing if it’s even possible for someone to have an out of body experience, and to avoid all of the crap that comes with talking about “angels” and “souls” I’ll venture down a different path. Oscar is shot in the stomach, and you now see how he got to this point, and then how life goes on without him in the picture. Most Hollywood films would lead you to believe that this experience warrants a wisecracking leading man - like a John Travolta or a Denzel Washington - to remind the viewer that death is funny.
Noe isn’t using this technique to declare a blanket statement about self worth, there’s no George Bailey here, and no villain. In fact, there’s no conflict here which makes it seem more like an observation on life than a legitimate story - if not for the fact that internally it does follow Oscar on his own journey through memories as well as seeing the aftermath of his death.
The film is put together nicely. The transitions don’t seem out of place at all, the angles and techniques all purposefully done. Set design is impeccable, giving a futuristic feel to the locations. The acting is what you’d expect, neither outstanding nor awful by any means. I wouldn’t suggest watching Enter the Void specifically for the acting. It’s a film built for an out of body experience for the audience, and it requires the usage of all your senses to be an effective piece of film. Whether it can successfully do that for everyone is left to be determined.
I lump it by association only with other films of the like - Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, and to some extent the works of Terrence Malick like The Tree of Life or even Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. Visually stimulating films that are meant to be interpreted on a higher level. It’s not so much about a rating or even about entertaining, it’s about the experience. Sometimes films of this nature can be regarded as pretentious or self serving for the director - I’d agree with that in reference to Waking Life and even The Tree of Life. With Enter the Void I think it’s less about the director and more about the audience.
Malick’s The Tree of Life spanned almost 3 hours if I recall and literally broke the narrative in half with an intermission style galaxy quest - 30 minutes or so of archival footage from Nova. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed The Tree of Life but some of it was unnecessary in the grand scheme of the film. Here though, it’s not about that at all. It’s about the experience.
Of course, the film will not be intended for everyone. It will polarize your household possibly. The visuals will be an over stimulant to some. The heavy emphasis on sexuality may be too strong for some - Noe clearly does not hold back (as evidenced by his previous work), and he’s in full form here with quite possibly the most memorable sex scene I’ve ever been shown in film. In one instances it clearly depicts exactly what sexual intercourse is (for those who don’t know) in a visual style to match the film, but also has the tendency to be the most graphic scene I think I’ve ever viewed, and yet on one more, possibly the most beautiful and artfully captured sex scene. I’m not one for sex scenes in films, I feel they usually deviate from the plot, but here, to bring the narrative full circle it’s entirely necessary and a fitting conclusion to the film.
So the real question though, is if I actually liked it or not. After watching Enter the Void I can’t really say if I have an opinion on it. I could possibly be the most brilliant film ever made. It could be the most forward thinking film ever made. It could be a successful alternative to 3D and Smell-o-vision. It’s hard to say really. If anything else, Enter the Void represents a director’s vision - life long dream apparently too - masterfully transitioning to the big screen. Whether it’s a good movie or not, is entirely up to each individual viewer, because no two people will take the same thing from this film.
MPAA Rating: This film has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime: 161 mins.
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé, Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Cast: Paz de la Huerta; Nathaniel Brown; Olly Alexander; Ed Spear; Emily Alyn Lind
Genre: Drama | Fantasy
Tagline: Enter the Void
Memorable Movie Quote: "Smoking. It reminds me of sucking on my mother's nipples. Best thing in my life."
Distributor: IFC Films
Official Site: www.ifcfilms.com/films/enter-the-void
Release Date: September 24, 2010
Synopsis: A drug dealer becomes interested in death and re-incarnation after reading "The Tibetan Book of the Dead". Suddenly dead, his soul floats through Tokyo observing the dramas of his friends and foes. An oath determines his next step 'as a soul'.