The first act of Gasper Noe’s extremely trippy movie Enter the Void is a lot like the visuals one sees at underground dance clubs. In fact, if I was doing visuals for such a club, I would definitely use parts of it.
If his 2002 film Irreversible starts off on a particularly disturbing note and keeps heading in a more positive direction, then Enter the Void is pretty much the opposite. Kind of, not really. We start off with a first-person look into the life of Oscar (played by Nathaniel Brown), a French orphan living in Tokyo who has just started dealing drugs. And we get a first-hand look into the effects of some of the drugs that Oscar is selling, and dabbling into as well.
The gimmick in Irreversible was the maddening rotating camera movement and backwards timeline, and in Void the first gimmick is the point-of-view camerawork. We see everything from Oscar’s eyes, with the screen actually going black when he blinks. It is him we see whenever he looks into the mirror. At one point Oscar tries something referred to as DMT, and we see visuals similar to, but a lot more advanced than, the iTunes visualiser.
Oscar’s beautiful younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) doesn’t approve of his lifestyle, and is seeing the decidedly dodgy owner of the strip club where she works. Then Oscar dies and, as his spirit leaves his body, we continue to see things from his point-of-view. Only now we are able to fly all over Tokyo, through space and time, when we go to the France of Oscar and Linda’s past, learning many disturbing things which explain how both siblings ended up the way they did. The camera miraculously floats through walls, over roofs, along alleys, up into the sky, wherever Oscar’s unfortunate spirit goes. Second gimmick.
Aleksadr Sokurov once gave an interview about his 99-minute single-take film Russian Ark. When he was asked about the Herculean accomplishment of shooting an entire feature-length film — especially one as visually rich as Russian Ark — in a single take, he responded by saying that that aspect of it was just a gimmick, the movie was much more than that. But I really don’t know if I can say the same for Enter the Void. Although initially the movie is visually stimulating, at some point the endless floating through walls begins to get annoying. There is plenty of production and post-production wizardry that has gone into this film, but the result gets tedious by the time you finally reach the 161st minute of it.
I don’t think that every movie needs to a life-changing experience, and Noe touches on a lot of really interesting subjects in the movie, but Enter the Void somehow seems to suffer from a chronic lack of substance. Or, perhaps, from too much of it — there is so much going on with the flashbacks and the flying around, it’s hard to tell which. When a filmmaker uses such overpowering gimmicks, then it must be very tricky not to let them take over the most important aspect of the film: the storytelling. I feel Gasper Noe failed to do so.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2011.