Dec 9, 2013

Enter the Void

Without question, Enter the Void (2009) is Argentinean auteur Gaspar Noé’s most technically and aesthetically accomplished work to date, but I would never call it anywhere near his greatest film. Indeed, compared to the froggy pre-apocalyptic Euro-decay of Noé’s previous works, Carne (1991), I Stand Alone (1998), and Irréversible (2002), Enter the Void seems like the epic celluloid wet dream of a decadent and unthinking recreational psychedelic drug user (which Noé is!) who can no longer be bothered with the uncomfortable true troubles of the world because he is far too comfortable and has finally received enough success to do whatever the hell he wants. Undoubtedly, Enter the Void was a ‘dream’ for Noé and the filmmaker’s equivalent to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—a work that the director has credited as not only influencing him to be a film director at the mere age of 7, but would also make a somewhat strange ‘appearance’ in poster form in a hot and steamy sex scene between Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel in Irréversible. Additionally, Noé has cited the films of cine-magician Kenneth Anger, especially Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), as being a major aesthetic influence for Enter the Void, but arguably most interestingly, the filmmaker has credited the scientific drawings of German Romantic biologist/philosopher/physician/artist Ernst Haeckel as influencing the neo-psychadelic organic patterns featured throughout the film. In terms of less obvious aesthetic influences, Noé has named the experimental films of ‘spiritual auteur’ Jordan Belson (Bop-Scotch, Phenomena) and the found-footage flicks of Austrian auteur Peter Tscherkassky (Instructions for a Light & Sound Machine, Happy-End). Thematically speaking, Enter the Void is like a totally transgressive ‘Idiot's Guide to the Tibetan Book of the Dead’ as directed by a contemporary jet-set drug addict who decided to “Turn on, tune in, drop out” while on an overextended exodus in Tokyo, Japan. The hyper hallucinatory, hypnotic, and aesthetically hysterical celluloid scumbag saga of a superlatively scrawny American drug dealer/addict living in Tokyo who is nonsensically killed after his cowardly cuckold of a friend rats him out to the police, only to comeback as a floating spirit as prophesized in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and watch over his friends/family, Enter the Void is a strikingly spiritually degenerate fantasy flick that will probably prove to be a ‘religious’ experience for ravers and other nocturnal narcotic-fueled rabble, but will seem rather retarded, at least thematically speaking, to most other viewers. Still, despite its decidedly decadent themes and morally and spiritually dubious message, Enter the Void is nothing short of a visually spectacular experience from a filmmaker that seems to be ‘finding himself’ (or whatever). 

 Oscar (played by non-actor/aspiring filmmaker Nathaniel Brown)—a rather questionable fellow who gets off to sniffing his little sister’s panties and is jealous of said sister's pimp-like boyfriend—is a gawky and scrawny young American male of the modern emasculated sort who lives in Tokyo and supports himself by selling drugs in a notoriously dangerous and stupid place to sell drugs. Unfortunately, Oscar is a bad salesman and enjoys smoking his own product, which is DMT. Oscar’s well meaning artist/neo-beatnik guru friend Alex (Cyril Roy) wants him to quit dealing dope and lets him borrow the Tibetan Book of the Dead as inspiration. At the beginning of Enter the Void, Alex tells Oscar how when a person dies their spirit wanders among the living and experiences nightmares until it can be reincarnated. After Oscar’s cowardly British friend Victor (Olly Alexander) rats him out to the cops after discovering his friend had been fucking his MILF mom, the DMT dealer is shot to death by Jap cops in a bathroom stall after failingly attempting to flush his dope down the toilet (and idiotically telling the cops he has a gun!) at a happening bar called ‘The Void,’ thus beginning his post-life as a wandering spirit in kaleidoscopic cotton-candy-colored Tokyo. After dropping dead on a urine-drenched floor after taking a bullet to the chest, Oscar gazes at his corpse as he floats above in spirit form and his short yet somewhat tragic life proceeds to be viscerally yet surreally depicted in semi-chronological order. When they were just little children, Oscar and his sister Linda were in a rather violent and traumatizing car accident that claimed their seemingly loving parents, thus sending both siblings to different foster homes where they would grow up to become, more or less, self-destructive individuals with corrosive (and even incestuous) tendencies. After coming of age, Oscar relocated to Tokyo and eventually saved enough money via selling drugs so that his sister Linda (perennial celluloid whore Paz de la Huerta) could also move to Japland, but when she arrived she became a stripper and, in turn, the paid slut of a manipulative Jap with a wop name named Mario (Masato Tanno). To cope with the stress of his sister Linda, who he has a quasi-incestuous relationship with, being a paid slut, Oscar ultimately became a more destructive drug user and began to using DMT, which inevitably led to more self-destructive behavior, including screwing his British friend Victor’s mom. Of course, when Victor, who is a closet queen, found out that his best friend defiled his beloved mother, he conspired to get Oscar arrested by the cops (he was arrested on a possession charge, so by setting up Oscar, Victor thought he would be able to knock out two birds with one stone) but, of course, never expected it would result in the death of his friend. 

 From there, the rest of Enter the Void essentially focuses on the somewhat immediate aftermath of Oscar’s death and how his sister Linda and friends, Alex and Victor, deal with it. Naturally, lecherous Linda falls into a most melancholy state and indulges in large doses of drugs and sex, including miscegenation-based orgies and lesbianism. Linda also gets pregnant and aborts her ½ Jap baby, which Oscar witnesses in a rather gross way from above the operating table. When Linda and her ‘boyfriend’ Mario go to see Oscar’s body, they are both disgusted and the corpse is eventually ‘scorched’ via cremation. Meanwhile, Victor bitches his mom out like a true bitch for sharing carnal knowledge with Oscar (assumedly, Victor wanted Oscar all for himself). When Victor attempts to apologize to Linda for his unwitting part in Oscar’s death, she treats him like the bitch he is and tells him to kill himself, but instead he gives communal blowjobs to middle-aged Japanese businessmen like a true racial cuckold. Eventually, Linda drops her truly mean man Mario and, to Oscar’s postmortem delight, gets with Alex, who has been living like a bum and eating out of garbage cans for the majority of Enter the Void. In the end, Oscar’s spirit floats between rooms at a fancy kaleidoscopic hotel called “Love Hotel” where he witnesses his friend Alex passionately making to love to his sister Linda, Victor blowing a Jap businessman while another Jap businessman waits for his turn, his pedophile drug dealer Bruno (non-actor and 'Save The Children' activist Ed Spear in his first and sole film role) smoking crack while watching a young boy having sex with a young girl, and various strangers engaging in various forms of fucking and sucking. In the final scene, Alex seems to be reborn via his sister Linda’s vagina (thus making him the son of his sis/friend Alex), but auteur Gaspar Noé has denied this interpretation, claiming it is merely a flashback of the protagonist's original birth in the form of a false memory. 

 Featuring quotes from drug-addled artist-guru Alex like “Smoking. It reminds me of sucking on my mother's nipples. Best thing in my life,” and “It’s funny you know... DMT only lasts for six minutes but it really seems like eternity. It is the same chemical your brain receives when you die…It is a little bit like dying would be the ultimate trip,” Enter the Void is certainly a celluloid drug epic made by a drug connoisseur for drug connoisseurs and that is exactly why I could not completely get into the film, even upon subsequent viewings and as a rather unrepentant Gaspar Noé fan. Indeed, while I firmly respect Gaspar Noé for his uniquely uncompromising libertine brand of filmmaking and all around aesthetic terrorism, it is impossible for me to truly respect a film that wallows in deluded DMT fetishism and pseudo-Orientalist hoghwash of the would-be-metaphysical sort. Additionally, Enter the Void confirmed to me that Noé’s career-spanning interest in incest is more than just an interest and has gotten rather old, and that he did not choose to include such sordid themes in Carne and I Stand Alone simply because he has an unflattering view of French proletarians. Indeed, 160 minutes of incestuous and perverted sexuality, psychedelic drug use, fucked up families, and warped Asiatic romanticism for death is not exactly my ideal sort of epic cinema and compared to I Stand Alone and Irréversible, Enter the Void seems like philistine escapism created for contemporary bourgeois would-be-beatniks who have the time and money to wash on such modernist post-counter-culture inanities. Still, Enter the Void is easily the greatest film set in Japan and directed by a white man since Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) and an aesthetically noble, if not thematically negligent, attempt by Noé to directe his very own ‘celluloid trip’ equivalent to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Featuring a totally unsympathetic protagonist who does not even deserve the sort of empathy typically afforded to iconic cinematic antiheros like Travis Bickle and Alex DeLarge, Enter the Void is certainly a film that is exceedingly emblematic of our spiritually and morally repugnant, vain and valueless, emotionally-dead and death-worshiping, and spectacle-obsessed zeitgeist, thus one must admit it has a more than fitting title. Packed with otherworldly images of abortions and aborted fetuses, sadistic sodomite drug dealers doping underage Jap boys, violent car crashes involving prepubescent children, starving artists eating trash out of garbage cans, Yank-on-Jap miscegenation of both the hetero and homo sort, dreamlike DMT derangement, a fiery cremation of a young drug addict, a crazy bitch dumping her brother’s ashes down the sink, countless babies sucking on tender teats, and a spirit ostensibly being reborn via his sister’s overworked snatch, Enter the Void is human ugliness in its most pleasantly digestible form and for that reason alone makes it worth viewing, even if the film seems like grandiose grade school dilettantism when compared to its infinitely more thematically complex father film 2001: A Space Odyssey

-Ty E

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