Gaspar Noé’s graphic exploration of drugs, sex and religion has flashes of brilliance, but falls well short of perfection. Before I start, I advise you to take note that if you suffer from epilepsy, avoid going to see ‘Enter The Void’ at all possible cost. In fact, I would go one further and suggest you do not wander into any theatre that has shown this movie within the past twenty-four hours, just in case there is any residual mind-bending strobe lighting still inhabiting the auditorium. Just scanning this review could quite possibly trigger a seizure in the most sensitive of cases, and I do not wish to be responsible for any injuries.
Because of this, it was rather surprising to see a lack of on-screen warning before the film began. However, the fact that this is labeled as a Gaspar Noé project should serve as sufficient warning for any willing moviegoer. Not that you would be able to extract this information from the opening credits, which are an interesting fusion of English and Japanese writing, vivid fluorescent colours and, of course, strobe lights, all relayed to you at 200 mph. I would estimate that my eyes stopped hyperventilating about ten minutes in, at which point I settled down and began to enjoy the film.
For those not familiar with the director Gaspar Noé, he is a French film-school graduate whose artistic trademarks include intricate camera shots, pulsating lighting and most notably, graphic sexual content. He is noted for once stating, “There is no line between art and pornography. You can make art of anything.” All these aspects of his filmmaking are on vivid display in ‘Enter The Void’, his most ambitious project to date, and his first feature since the critically acclaimed ‘Irreversible’ which was released in 2002.
The film centers on Oscar, a young man embroiled in the drug and sex culture of Tokyo’s Red Light District. Despite warnings from his sister and friends, who are themselves large hypocrites, he continues to delve deeper into the world of drug dealing, and early on in the film meets an untimely fate, shot and killed in the restroom of a bar named ‘The Void’. From this point onwards we shadow his soul as it explores both the effects of his death on those close to him, most notably his sister, and also relives his most prominent memories. The plot itself is not hugely enthralling, and there are only a handful of standout moments with its framework, though these are very well done, managing to be both exciting and genuinely surprising. One narrative arc that was entirely unpredictable was the one that depicted his parents, though I will leave spoiler space here and not go into it. There is a fair amount of depth, and it makes some bold statements, especially regarding spirituality. One interesting part to consider is the definition of ‘The Void’ itself, there are several hints at this, but ultimately the idea of ‘The Void’ embodies many aspects of the film.
While the focus of the film is very serious, it does contain some comedic exchanges between characters that are genuinely funny due to some sharp and witty writing. However, the moments that made the audience around me laugh the loudest were unintentionally humorous. Some of the most grotesque parts were so absurd, yet almost anticipated, that you couldn’t help but crack up. While these were not too frequent, I did feel they detracted from the overall direction of the film and perhaps displayed that the director had gone a little too far in his efforts to shock his viewers. Noé certainly does not hold back in his use of graphic content, in particular the sexual aspects of the film are extremely liberal and I expect many people would hold the opinion that he has crossed some sort of line. Personally, I felt that while these scenes were a long way from being tasteful, in the context of the picture they mostly made sense; however there were a few moments that could only be described as pornographic.
One of the most prominent positives of ‘Enter The Void’ is that it is filmed in a stunningly intricate, often beautiful, style. From the sweeping shots of the Tokyo skyline to the bizarre illusions of an acid trip, the on-screen visuals are an absolute feast for the viewer’s eyes. The more grounded shots are also very impressive; Noé clearly has a desire to use as few cuts as possible and to film his scenes with single fluid camera movements, reminiscent of the Italian Neorealist style.
Herein lies the real issue I have with the movie. While many aspects of its direction are very impressive, all the parts that do work well are repeated so excruciatingly often that they become almost completely redundant by the end of the film. Take the numerous transition shots for example. Initially, these seem to be filmed in a very clever manner, and come across as stylish and relatively original. However, by the time the film reaches its halfway point, you are now so alerted to the fact that the camera will nosedive into any prominent light-source you notice in picture, that it renders the shot itself very dull. This kind of filming just isn’t exciting when it’s predictable, and it does become quite a strain on your patience.
Another issue I have with ‘Enter The Void’ is that the editing is, to put it bluntly, equal to rubbish. Large parts of the film still feel like they are in the midst of post-production, and there were a few scenes that feel unnecessary even when you’re sat there watching them. One very prominent example of this occurs about an hour into the film: all the events of the beginning scenes are repeated, and although they are cut down and not displayed at full length, it just seems remarkably pointless. It’s hardly like the audience would have forgotten the details of those opening scenes in such a short space of time, and as the style is very slow-paced in the first place, it feels needless. This contributes to an overall running time of around two and a half hours – with better editing the film would probably have run closer to two hours and would have been much more enjoyable.
So, despite some genuinely original and visually stimulating moments, as an entire package, ‘Enter The Void’ falls well short of greatness. The first half is where the picture shines, but it really fades away towards the end. It was therefore no surprise to see the audience around me getting increasingly restless as it neared its conclusion. I have noted that online some public opinion has referred to the film as “brilliantly directed” and “Kubrick-esque”. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it’s a real stretch to attribute these kind of accolades to a project that feels very experimental, and at times, far from a finished product. Imdb.com has estimated the budget for this film at a colossal €13 million – if this is correct then there may be some explanation here for the films shortcomings. Clearly, Noé wished to create a film that is artistically driven, but the large budget means there is also such a strong commercial imperative that there may have been crossed wires along the line, resulting in the film being rushed into cinemas. Overall, ‘Enter The Void’ is a remarkable experience and is very enjoyable in parts. Even though it has many shortcomings, I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t suffer from epilepsy or a faint-hearted nature of any magnitude. However, if you’re looking for a coherent and polished movie experience look elsewhere. This one takes some effort to enjoy.