Enter the Void (2009)

*. On the front of the DVD case there’s a warning: “This unrated film contains explicit sex, disturbing scenes, and drug use.” True enough, but why not a warning for epileptics? If those opening credits don’t send you into a seizure I don’t know what would. And don’t even think of trying to navigate the chapter selection menu. It’s even worse.
*. They might have also included a warning for anyone susceptible to motion sickness. Give a guy like Gaspar Noé a drone and see what you get?
*. Noé is a director who divides people pretty sharply. Enter the Void got a standing ovation at Cannes but did terrible box office. A critical darling, then? Not really. Critics were split too, though most saw something in it.
*. For the record, I did like I Stand Alone and Irréversible. I thought a lot less of Enter the Void. Why? In part due to the general sense I had that Noé was running on fumes for 161 minutes (the “long” version or full-length director’s cut).
*. There’s not a lot here. Basically it’s all a riff on the now rather old idea of the entire story being in effect a man’s dying moments and/or his immediate afterlife. Think Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” William Golding’s Pincher Martin, or the film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Only here it’s not presented as a twist since the whole concept is introduced, pretty crudely, by the discussion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

*. The deceased is one Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown. He’s basically a drug dealer in Tokyo who lives with his sister Linda (Pas de la Huerta). One night Oscar gets busted and (improbably) is shot by the police, expiring on the floor of a washroom stall. Flashbacks and flashforwards take up the rest of the movie as we learn more about Oscar and Linda’s history.
*. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that I didn’t find Oscar remotely interesting, much less relatable. Then as the film went on I curiously found the two siblings becoming even less sympathetic and more repulsive. And 161 minutes is a long time to be spent looking at this grimy, blurry world from Oscar’s point of view, or staring at the back of his head.
*. Yes, blurry. I thought the camerawork good and the editing excellent. I can understand why such a movie would take so long to assemble in post. Combining the invisible cuts with the gliding camera movement gives the proceedings a fluidity that Noé seems to have perfected. But I couldn’t see anything! What was up with that?
*. Because Oscar is taking a lot of drugs himself (he hasn’t heeded the warning from Scarface not to get high on his own supply) there are also a number of trippy sequences that critics thought recalled the Star Gate sequence in 2001. I guess. And I guess if you were on drugs while watching Enter the Void you might enjoy it more. But I wasn’t, so.
*. Despite the entire movie revolving around Oscar and Linda I didn’t feel I had any understanding of them as characters. Some sort of incestuous connection is hinted at, but it could just be that they’re weird. Or perhaps they’re just morons and there is no deeper level to explore. The fact, and I think it is a fact in evidence at least in this film, that neither Brown nor de la Huerta can act may also be contributing to this abiding blankness. Are they the void?

*. There are a few flourishes thrown in, seemingly to demonstrate Noé’s cred as an edgy filmmaker. Linda has an abortion and the camera dives into the dish containing the fetus. There’s a tour of a neon love hotel that’s like channel-surfing a porn network, only half as erotic. We get a sex scene at the end with an inside-the-vagina point-of-view money shot. Pointless really. My only thought as I was watching this was whether that was Noé’s dick thrusting in my face. I don’t know why I was wondering about that. I guess there was nothing else going on that seemed interesting enough to contemplate.
*. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where I spent so much time in the final fifteen minutes thinking “Is that the end?” before finding out that, no, there was still more to come. Which is another way of saying that the end of the movie really drags. Apparently Noé thought it was a flashback to Oscar’s birth, in the form of a false memory. Why a false memory? I thought it was Linda giving birth to her and Alex’s child, but (again) the picture was so blurry I couldn’t tell. It could have been anyone.
*. I guess this sounds like I’m putting the boots to Enter the Void so I’ll stop. On the plus side, I did manage to sit through it to the end without being bored out of my mind. But the whole premise here is nothing new or interesting, the characters are dim and drippy losers, and the point of it all is trite and whimsical. Birth is a kind of death, and vice versa. You see how Oscar dies in a fetal position? You could just keep watching this movie on an endless loop. And if you do, I salute you. But it’s not my thing.

7 thoughts on “Enter the Void (2009)

  1. Tom Moody

    Having the main character die while high (DMT — a shamanic visionary drug) set the stage for the death experience as essentially psychedelic, a shift in body but not consciousness. The swooping movements in and out of windows and orifices as a form of storytelling were either bold and hypnotic (how I saw it) or the fodder for drone jokes (how you saw it). You have to be open to this to some extent or it will always be silly. As for the blurriness, I would assume that’s a side-effect of seeing a widescreen film as a DVD.
    The characters in Irréversible were also shallow, with their affairs and dumb conversations about sex. In these films ordinary, boring people (or lowlifes) have the most intense experiences imaginable.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I actually thought the drone stuff and swooping camera were pretty impressive. I even gave him credit for that. And the way it was spliced together. I don’t know about the shift to widescreen making it so blurry. I think that was just the way it was lit/filmed.

      Yes, you could call the characters in Irreversible shallow, but they were adult shallow. And I actually found some of the talk in that movie interesting. But Oscar and Linda here were just total blanks to me. They barely seemed to be mentally functioning.

      I could see someone enjoying this movie as a sort of trip. But that’s not really my thing. So I’ll just have to grant that I’m not the ideal or intended audience for it. I did like Noe’s other movies though.


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