Monday, February 14, 2011

Enter The Void (Gaspar Noe, 2009)

I began my love affair with film when I was around thirteen or fourteen. I've spent a solid twenty years searching for films outside the main stream. This is one of the most odd, unusual, unsettling films I've come across in a very, very long time. The narrative structure alone makes it extremely different. When the visual style is mixed in with the thematic elements it goes completely over the top, without the slightest hint of apology. It starts off strange, and only gets weirder. Just when I thought it couldn't go any further, it waited five minutes, and jumped the line by a few more feet. I was completely unprepared for the experience this film had in store for me, and I honestly can't think of anyone I know who would have been prepared. The only word I have for the feeling I had when it was over is gobsmacked. Jaw on my chest, staring at the screen when the final frame was done, I could only shake my head and say, "Wow." If you have a soul, Enter the Void will punch you in it.

The first film my mind reached for to compare this one to is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would be an apt comparison if Kubrick's Space Odyssey had been made by contemporary urban Buddhists. But it wasn't, and it's not an apt comparison at all, but it's the most apt comparison I can come up with, most probably because of the hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic use of color.  One of the other immediate associations I make with this film are Cronenberg's early films. The thing about associating or comparing this film to the early Cronenberg films is that the comparison only works in reverse. I'd be telling anyone reading this more than would be good for them to know if I told them more than the fact that it is not a film about body horror. 

The word for word synopsis over at IMDB says, "A drug-dealing teen is killed in Japan, after which he reappears as a ghost to watch over his sister." I've seen that movie before. Most of us probably have seen that film before. This is not that film. Does that synopsis fit this film to some degree? Yes, it does. Is it ludicrously misleading? Yes, it is. This is so much more complicated and has so much more depth than that simple synopsis suggests, that reading it after having seen the film makes it comical. It's almost like saying, "The Silence of the Lambs was a horror film about cannibalism. A description like that makes Silence of the Lambs sound like a distant cousin to Cannibal Holocaust, which again could not be further from the truth. That makes  If this were a film about a ghost following a woman around Japan, in anything slightly resembling the conventional sense of that narrative, I probably wouldn't be writing this review right now.

Gaspar Noé is definitely the kind of director who makes his audience feel they are in the hands of a man who is completely unreliable. Wes Craven has been quoted as saying on many occasions that the best way to frighten people is to convince them they are in the hands of a madman. Noé doesn't go so far as attempting to make the viewer feel like we're in the hands of a madman, but we certainly feel the person in charge here is going to take us to some places we certainly do not want to be. It's not even that we don't want to be where he's trying to take us, it's more that we don't want to be in the same state or country as the place he's going to take us. The thing is, there's no violence in it. All of the sources of that discomfort come from character work in the script, and an unusually intimate perspective on the lives of some of those characters. That's not to say this is a family film either. It is anything but. There's a good deal of graphic drug use, and there are some pretty graphic sex scenes as well. Most of them are not what I would necessarily consider the sexy variety of sex scene either. They're just uncomfortable to watch. To say it's profoundly voyeuristic is an understatement.

The visual style of this film is almost as shocking as the subject matter. It takes the first person perspective to an entirely new level, and the use of color is borderline insane in the best possible way. The colors are bright and vibrant, constantly changing and practically assaulting the audience through each of the films scenes. Considering the fact that the film takes place in Tokyo, the hallucinatory nature of the film makes a certain degree of sense. There's definitely a very strong connection between the visual style of the film and the subject matter as well, and it doesn't take place in Tokyo out of sheer coincidence. I've never been to Tokyo, but in the films and stills I've seen, it's like a neon playground, and much of that same variety of color is used in the film. It's beautiful and absolutely disconcerting.

This is a disturbingly unusual film that is extremely well made and thought out to a degree that in itself is shocking to consider. There's a lot to like about this film, but there are some slow spots. They don't ruin the film by any means, but the overall effectiveness is damaged by them. The nature of the narrative style doesn't necessarily lend itself to clarity either, so being able to pick up on the details when they are there is important, otherwise, it's completely plausible that someone could get through the film and have little to no idea of what they just watched. All in all though, this was something so unusual that I can't really knock it. I've probably never seen anything quite like this, and I expect it will be a very long time before I see anything like it again. Of course, you can pick it up on Blu-Ray and DVD at Amazon

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