Cinophile: ENTER THE VOID

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There is nothing easy about this movie. Even the opening credits risk giving you an epileptic fit. More than once you will wonder why you are even watching this. But Enter The Void is not the kind of movie that has to explain itself to anyone.

Argentinian/French director Gaspar Noé is known for making harrowing films, like I Stand Alone and the truly unnerving Irreversible. So I had no misconceptions when diving into Enter The Void, his bizarre first person epic. But I still could not finish it in one sitting. In fact, it took three attempts. So know that this is not an audience-friendly movie. But if you like to visit the edge of cinema, where fresh ideas mix with bravado and experimentation, this is one film you must see.

Oscar is a drug dealer in Tokyo who also enjoys sampling his own products. But as we meet him, he is close to his death. After a friend betrays him, he is shot dead by the police. But for the audience this is only the start. When Oscar dies, his spirit leaves his body and starts to wander. His soul is looking for resurrection, but this won’t be a straightforward journey as he floats through time and space, revisiting the events and decisions that brought him to his demise.

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But nobody is given a road map to salvation, so Oscar’s journey is a strange and disjointed one. As such the movie does not try to explain things prematurely. The audience is forced to go along for the ride and work things out as Oscar does. It is the embodiment of an experience: Enter The Void doesn’t serve to entertain. It has a bigger story to tell and if that means the audience must suffer, then so be it. I’m not trying to paint this film as a bad experience, just a demanding one. But as it reaches its end, the whole ordeal starts to make a lot of sense – though many will consider Oscar’s final resting place more than a little disturbing.

Here’s the kicker: most of the movie is shot in first person perspective. In fact, when Oscar is alive you can see whenever he blinks, an effect that disappears once he turns into a spirit. From that point onwards Oscar floats around, jumping between his friends and family, as well as past and present. It can be disorientating, but the whole idea is to create a real-time experience of Oscar’s ordeal. True to Noé’s style, this is a warts-and-all journey, but wrapped in a ensemble of floating cameras and psychedelic viscerality.

Enter The Void is not for everyone. Indeed, audiences largely avoided it – and who can blame them? To have had to sit through this movie in a cinema must have been grueling. At least a lounge viewing is more manageable. But if you consider yourself a cinematic connoisseur, you really should watch this – if only to tell people that you did.

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Enter The Void is about an altered state of consciousness, so the film was designed to create that effect with audiences. As a result it can become very disorientating and many viewers have said they needed to take a break from being so overstimulated. Director Gaspar Noé has said that a lot of the visual design was to create a feeling of being on strong drugs and at times entering a complete dreamlike state.
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Most of Enter The Void is shot in first person, also called subjective camera. Gaspar Noé got the idea after seeing the movie Lady In The Lake. Other influences were the opening sequence of Strange Days and the video for The Progigy’s song Smack My Bitch Up. Noé spent fifteen years conceptualising Enter The Void. Drug use, specifically the psychedelic DMT, features in the movie and opens the door for eye-warping visual sequences.
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Despite a theme about reincarnation, Enter The Void is not about the afterlife – in fact, the director says he doesn’t believe in that and wasn’t exploring the concept. At its core this is about a really bad drug trip by someone who is busy dying. But like many great works the film ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. Most of the dialogue was improvised to keep things more natural and help the movie feel like a real-time experience. As such it also moves seamlessly in and out of Tokyo’s seedier areas. To accomplish this arrangements had to be made with some organised crime groups to gain access to some parts of the city, though the groups were not involved in the making of Enter The Void.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: October 6, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it’s something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway – even video nasties need love…

  • Kervyn Cloete

    THOSE. OPENING. CREDITS.

    • Yeah, it’s like a crazy litmus test for the experience you’re about to get.

  • Acornbread

    A very unique and disturbing movie but I couldn’t finish it. Despite that, it’s stayed with me, feel almost guilty for not watching it through.

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