Gaspar Noé's psychedelic epic Enter the Void is at once brilliant and bewildering, entrancing and interminable. After a novice drug dealer is killed in Tokyo, his soul takes flight over the city to observe the devastation left in his wake. Enter the Void is an undeniably unique cinematic achievement from the controversial French filmmaker, but it is also frequently unpleasant and overlong. Enter at your own risk.
Following one of the greatest opening credits sequences in history - a dizzying assault of cast and crew recognitions set to English techno act LFO's "Freak", which I've embedded above - the film wastes no time acclimating viewers to the exhausting first-person perspective of Oscar (newcomer Nathaniel Brown), the aforementioned man dealing drugs to make a living in Tokyo. Eager to push the bounds of reality, Oscar scores some powerful DMT hallucinogen from his supplier against the advice of his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta). When Oscar tries to deliver drugs to a friend, he falls into a trap set by local police. Oscar holes up in a bathroom to flush his stash, and he attempts to buy some time by threatening to shoot a nonexistent weapon. Tokyo is a city notoriously unforgiving to drug users, and the police shoot Oscar through the bathroom door. As his body lays dying, Oscar's consciousness moves outward and up to begin its fitful flight over Tokyo.
Enter the Void, presented here in the director's original 161-minute cut, takes Oscar's drug-fueled paranoia and attempts to replicate it for viewers. The seizure-inducing images of Tokyo, already a Lite-Brite playground for adults, are constantly strobing and shifting. From a sheer technical standpoint, Enter the Void features some of the most amazing, maddening images ever preserved on film. Nearly the entire experience - an apt term for the film, because it is nothing if not an experience - is seen from Oscar's point of view. Enter the Void accomplishes this in three ways: filming through Oscar's eyes, at the back of his head and during his turbulent flight over Tokyo. In shots that evidently combine some fancy crane work with digital effects, Oscar's flight unspools like some Japanese fowl dropped acid before flying across the city looking for glimpses of sex and abuse. Every image is a neon bar sign of color, every shot is spliced and diced to make the viewer feel on edge, and even the neutron firings at Oscar's brain synapses are depicted in some trippy animation.
Oscar's out-of-body experience is similar to that described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Oscar is reading before his death. He observes his lifeless body on the floor of the bar bathroom before seeing his past life and the current hell in which his friends and family remained trapped. Provocateur Noé, best known from the brutal, reverse-chronological Irréversible, hurls violent images of the car crash that claimed the lives of Oscar's parents at the screen. After their deaths, Oscar promises Linda that he will always come back for her, a promise he nearly breaks when a separate foster family adopts her. It is Oscar's desire to keep that promise that brings Linda to Tokyo, but she soon falls into the city's dark underbelly, working as a stripper but tipping toward prostitution. Tonally conflicting images of life past and present depict an over-sexualized relationship between Oscar and his mother and sister. We learn that Oscar is dealing drugs out of laziness or desperation, not lack of ability, and his uncertain morals allow him such pleasures as sleeping with a friend's mom and encouraging a young Japanese date to snort cocaine.
As intensely affecting as its visual style is, Enter the Void is often an ugly, repulsive film. Noé has been labeled misogynistic and profane, and Enter the Void is stuffed with enough ugly, soulless sex, addiction and violence to make even the most seasoned viewer blush. The coup de grace for sensitive viewers should be the explicit abortion simulation. Noé has also been heralded as brilliant and a true auteur, and while I cannot say I particularly enjoyed Enter the Void, I recognize that he created something unlike any other film I have seen. The film's greatest strength, which, incidentally, is also its greatest weakness, is its unwavering portrayal of an ugly little slice of life. Neither Oscar nor Linda is a particularly heinous person, and their turbulent upbringing is enough to garner some sympathy, but each seems content to inject themselves with the nastiest motivators they can find.
Enter the Void is all over the board in terms of acting, and I would not even begin to call the story cohesive. I started losing interest only an hour into the film, which left one hour and forty-one minutes of experience to come. That's not to say the rest of the movie was a complete bore, but the trick certainly got old. I am also not sure what to make of the ending, or if it follows the principles of The Tibetan Book of the Dead as suggested. I commend Noé for making such an outlandish film. A work of art labeled both "brilliant" and "unwatchable" at least gets people talking. Like getting stuck on the tarmac at LAX for six hours or eating the world's hottest pepper, watching Enter the Void is quite an accomplishment. But, unless you get off on such things, you probably won't be lining up to go round again.
This DVD includes the "full-length director's cut" of Enter the Void, which clocks in at 161 minutes. This version is roughly 7 minutes longer than that released in U.S. cinemas.
IFC Films releases Enter the Void on DVD with an erratic 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the major issues in which can likely can attributed to the source material. Sharpness, detail and texture all vary considerably throughout the film depending on the shot. Noé's chaotic filmmaking style, which encompasses uneven and often non-existent key lighting, and his use of several film stocks means some scenes look little better than a home movie. I noticed a lot of artifacts, some reminiscent of the combing effects you get with an interlaced transfer, though I do not believe that to be the case. There's also haloing, splotchy black levels and blown-out contrast. The movie is colorful, and the transfer handles the bold, chaotic and often bleeding colors appropriately. This is often an ugly transfer, but I would sooner blame the filmmakers than the DVD.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track complements the psychedelic atmosphere. Dialogue clarity is hit-or-miss depending on the scene, but Noé clearly did not mean for Enter the Void to sound shiny and new. Much of the dialogue seems to have been recorded on location, thus it varies in fidelity. The film's frequent use of techno music may be demo material if you want to show off your subwoofer, as several such scenes are downright bombastic. Effects and ambiance radiate throughout all the speakers, and scenes such as a frequently repeated car accident are jarring. I have no complaints about the audio, as it replicates the trance-like feel of the film. English SDH and Spanish subtitles also are available.
Those hoping for some solid answers to the film's many questions won't find them in the extra features, as there are no behind-the-scenes pieces or commentaries of any kind. What you do get are some Deleted Scenes (12:09) - Honestly, what made these unworthy of inclusion in the final cut? - Teasers (7:11), Foreign Trailers (3:25), the U.S. Trailer (2:09) and Unused Trailers (5:20). Also included are VFX (11:09), a reel that shows the digital rods and cones behind some of the effects, Vortex (5:34) and DMT (2:12), reels of the film's chaotic imagery, and a poster gallery.
One of the most original and challenging films I have had the opportunity to endure, Enter the Void is six states away from the ballpark of commercial cinema. French director Gaspar Noé's psychedelic head-trip is a first-person flight over the wreckage left behind after the death of a young drug dealer in Tokyo. Parts of it are brilliant, but as a whole it is draining. IFC Films' DVD features a decent picture, great sound and a few minor extras. Some of you will not make it past the first hour, others will call it the best film they have ever seen. With that in mind, Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.