By Marc Glassman
Gaspar Noé, director and writer
Starring: Nathaniel Brown (Oscar), Paz de la Huerta (Linda), Cyril Roy (Alex)
You’ve got to hand it to Gaspar Noé. Who else but the uber-cool French director would follow up an ultra-violent rape revenge flick (Irreversible) with a film that “stars” the soul of a drug dealer, liberated from his body after he’s shot to death by Tokyo police?
Labelled by the director as a “psychedelic melodrama,” the first quarter of Enter the Void is relatively straightforward. Oscar, a young and handsome American is dealing drugs in Tokyo not so much as a living but simply to pay his way to remain in Japan. He’s enjoying spending his life there especially because his beautiful sister Linda has arrived and become his roommate.
Both Linda and Oscar’s friend Alex express their displeasure with the young American dealing drugs but neither can dissuade him from meeting up with Victor at “The Void,” a club where dope deals take place. When Oscar shows up at “The Void,” it’s apparent that Victor has set him up for a bust. Rushing to the bathroom, Oscar locks a cubicle and tries to flush his drugs down the toilet. Angered, the police shoot him through the door and Oscar dies.
And that’s when the film really takes off. Noé releases Oscar’s soul and the rest of the film unfolds from his perspective. Floating above scenes, the camera swoops down into situations when they became fascinating to Oscar. He/we see Linda making love to the Japanese owner of the strip club where she works; immediately afterward, she gets a phone call from Alex telling her of Oscar’s death. Paz de la Huerta, a charismatic performer, moves from carnality to hysteria to despair in a bravura scene.
Oscar’s soul moves back and forth through time. He and Linda had an idyllic and quite sensual childhood with a gorgeous mother and a retiring intellectual father. Scenes shift and we move to the family’s tragic car crash, which killed the parents, leaving two terrified children in the back seat. Eventually placed in separate foster homes, the two vow to be reunited–which, you now realize, they did in Tokyo.
Alex had given Oscar the Tibetan Book of the Dead to read and it is that book’s philosophy, which informs the film. Noé has placed Oscar’s soul in the “bardo” state between death and rebirth. As his spirit moves restlessly around the neon-lit nearly hallucinatory nightclub scene in Tokyo, he is also experiencing various “Buddha” states. Eventually, Oscar may experience his rebirth–or he might be having one more hallucination.
Enter the Void is above all a visual work. The director uses computer generated imagery from BUF Compagnie to great effect. Avant-garde filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Jordan Belson and special f/x genius Douglas Trumbull influenced Noé’s style in crafting Oscar’s altered states.
Ultimately, this is Noé’s film. It’s overly long and you can question whether a deeply flawed character like Oscar deserves such a spiritual scenario. Despite these reservations, Enter the Void is a surprisingly exciting and entertaining film. Not for everyone, clearly–but if you want to see something different, this certainly is it.