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LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

Enter the Void has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!

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DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown

PLOT: A small-time drug dealer in Tokyo is shot, and spends the rest of the movie as a

Still from Enter the Void (2009)

hallucinating ghost, floating about the city watching over his drug buddies and his grieving stripper sister.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets automatic consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that your movie might be weird, is the fact that less than halfway through the screening the sexagenarian couple walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.  The Region 1 DVD drops January 25, 2011, at which time Enter the Void will become eligible for the List and get an immediate second look.

COMMENTS: Enter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, eye-candy masquerading as mind-candy; it has all the reckless visionary enthusiasm and delightful pretension of a Ken Russell picture.  With the opening credits—a series of garish, frequently unreadable stills sprayed at the screen like pop bullets from a machine gun projector, set to a pounding techno score—Gaspar Noé warns us to prepare ourselves to see something different, though we have no idea what.  (The original festival screenings did not include any credits, beginning immediately with the closeup of the neon sign reading “Enter”).  After quickly introducing the main characters, drug-dealing Oscar (from whose POV the entire film is shot) and his stripper sister Linda, the movie segues into a wordless five minute DMT trip, an abstract rainbow odyssey of swirling, melting mandalas and gently waving tentacles.  Oscar emerges from his drug reverie, still fuzzy-eyed, and the film ever so briefly enters the realm of straightforward narrative as he strolls with a buddy through the neon streets of  Tokyo towards a fatal rendezvous.  Shot to death in a men’s room, the vast bulk of the movie involves Oscar’s passive postmortem adventures, as he floats around the city observing his former friends in the expatriate community, and especially spying on his beloved sister—including, creepily, watching her real time sexual encounters in the back room of the strip club where she works.  Gradually, flashbacks of his life intrude on his disembodied observations, and the movie’s storytelling becomes even more fragmented and experimental.  Although his memory occasionally slips and merges with hallucination—as when a young Oscar walks in on his parent’s having sex, and the man plowing dear old mom suddenly sports the face of his best friend—attentive viewers won’t have much  problem piecing together the backstory, which deals with Oscar’s betrayal by his drug buddies as well as the vow he and his sister made as children to always stay together after the death of their parents.  The story is serviceable, and served well by slicing it up into bite-sized tidbits; if the tale had been told straight from beginning to end it would be too bland and familiar to choke down in this quantity.

Paz de la Huerta, who after following her role as the aptly named “Nude” in The Limits of Control with this sexy ecstasy addicted stripper is quickly becoming the weird movies favorite pin-up girl, delivers her melodramatic blowup scenes with great conviction.  Despite portraying the protagonist, Nathaniel Brown seems hardly in the movie; since the audience’s view is through a camera positioned about one foot behind him, we only see the back of his head and hear his voice, and for most of the movie he is a silent ghostly presence.  Neither of the actors stood the slightest chance of upstaging the apocalyptic neon visuals, which are the film’s obvious reason for existing; the camera is the real star, and thanks to the POV style it actually plays the main character, as well.  The movie is basically two hours of drugs and sex, and of druggy sex—especially in the jaw dropping pornographic finale—and perhaps thirty minutes of recycled hippie spirituality.  Whether you find the mystical glowing genitalia of the orgiastic climax laughably pretentious or ethereally erotic, you’re not soon likely to erase these sights from your mind.

Though it’s a trippy tour de force and an unforgettable brain-bending experience, the film is far from flawless; most obviously, at over two and a half hours it’s way too long for its minimal storyline, even after Noé trimmed 45 minutes (!) from the final theatrical cut.  Although the camerawork is impressive, there’s only so much floating through the streets and alleyways of Tokyo that one person can take, several dramatic scenes seem to repeat themselves, and even the brilliant psychedelic sequences would punch harder at a shorter length.  Furthermore, although we’re supposed to root for Oscar and Linda because of their vows of sibling love and because they have only each other to turn to in a foreign land, it’s hard to sympathize with the suffering of these adult orphans, since they clearly bring their troubles on themselves with their deliberately sleazy life choices.  Finally, the story’s stab at spirituality seems insincere; it’s laid on so pompously that one hopes it’s insincere.  It’s hard to escape the feeling that the movie is little more than a celebration of the romance of an aimless, amoral drug culture, and the exotic mystical notes it hits are hypocritical justifications for the hedonism on display.  That may actually be the movie’s point; death is the greatest trip of all, and religion is the most awesome of hallucinations.  Enter the Void won’t send most youngsters scurrying off to the library to learn about Tibetan Buddhism, but it might send them scurrying off to the nearest nightclub to pop pills, screw around, and hope that tonight’s the night they get to die young.

DMT, the drug that Oscar smokes at the beginning of the film, is possibly the most powerful psychedelic known to man, and is also produced in trace amounts in mammals (it’s unknown if it has an evolutionary function, or is just a byproduct of some other biochemical reaction).  Some scientists have speculated that DMT is dumped into the bloodstream at the time of death, producing the effects reported as “near death experiences.”  This speculation is mentioned in the film (where it’s presented as scientific fact), and some of Oscar’s post-expiration hallucinations bear a remarkable similarity to the visions he sees under the influence of the drug.

Noé premiered a 3+ hour version the film at Cannes in 2009, but considered that long version to be incomplete, and post-production continued for almost a year.  The final director-approved cut, running 154 minutes, premiered at Sundance in 2010.  Therefore, although the movie bears a 2009 copyright, it may be more appropriate to consider it a 2010 release—which would make it eligible to be named “the weirdest movie of 2010.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One hundred proof unfiltered weirdness.”–Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (contemporaneous)

4 comments to LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

  • cassie

    This is another one that I am surprised to see a good review of. All of the criticisms I want to make give away big spoilers, so I will keep them to myself and just add that one thing I really DID like were the trip scenes in the first 30 minutes. Pretty.

    • This is a rather weak “Recommended” from me, actually. I liked the film’s audacity and visuals but I had serious problems with the movie too: it’s way overlong and very pretentious, and lacks any humor. It gets the recommendation because I think most readers here will respond positively to it, and also because I think that to some extent it’s an “event” movie: they just don’t make relatively big budget drug trip movies like this very often anymore.

  • LEAVES

    Negative criticisms only obstruct the reasons that those criticisms are both irrelevant and hilariously misplaced; there is perhaps no film that illustrates this better than Enter the Void. For those that love the film it is a melancholy celebration of life, a visceral dip into the imagination, and contains a formal thoroughness that renders each flickering moment as essential to the film as any moment of any person’s experience (which would make sense, given that it is entirely a depiction of a man’s experience, including one after death (not an experience of the world after death, no, as that would be wholly normal, but an experience of his experience of death, one that is entirely hallucinated and increasingly detached from both memory and the rational, concluding in a deliriously irrational construction of an imagined place). An amazing film. Those that wish to make spurious attacks on it will surely succeed in remaining oblivious to the film’s nuances, a hollow victory if there ever was one.

  • Rob/Mofo Rising

    I loved the inventiveness of this movie. If it were an entire hour shorter, I would probably think it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. At two and a half hours, with its leisurely pacing, it is a very long experience indeed. Three hours plus would probably be intolerable.

    That being said, I really liked the film. I especially liked that it managed to use explicit sex as a storytelling vehicle. Sex in movies is usually there for titillation value, whether it be bonus bare boobs for b-movies, or high gloss photoshoots for celebrities (which are usually oddly “best bits” free). In “Enter the Void” the sex is an integral part of the story. The movie would not make sense without these explicit scenes.

    In a way, it reminded me of “Taxidermia,” which also used explicit sexuality to tell its story. Like “Taxidermia,” “Enter the Void” is also queasily repulsive. The two main characters, brother and sister, are hopelessly damaged individuals. While the whole intertwined souls theme makes sense in the Tibetan Book of the Dead spirituality the movie sells, it’s pretty disturbing stuff when you bring it back to regular life.

    All in all, I would say this is a very good stab at experimental cinema, with the best “trip” sequence I’ve yet seen filmed. However, it is overlong and indulgent. If the editing had been tighter, this would have been something I would recommend to anybody with the penchant for the bizarre.

    Last note, that Paz de la Huerta seems fearless. One could almost say she is clinically nude for two hours.

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