Salvador Dalí once said, “Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic.” Gaspar Noé took advice from the surrealist artist for his spellbinding, cinematic odyssey, Enter the Void. This film, if it can even be called that, is a psychedelic-infused, psychosexual, Freudian romp through one man’s life and death. This man’s journey is chronicled with experimental cinematography. It’s not for everyone. Cinephiles may find it bold and daring, while contemporary audiences and conservative critics will deem it gratuitous, pretentious, and muddled.
Enter the Void follows an American drug dealer named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) through Tokyo’s neon-soaked nightlife. He brought his younger, disturbed sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) to Japan with the money he made from dealing. His friends seem worried about him, about how deep into the criminal underworld he’s gotten, hoping he hasn’t dug his own grave. One friend, Alex (Cyril Roy) urges him to cut back, to focus on himself. He loans him a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, insisting that “it’s much better” than the Hunter S. Thompson treasure trove of psychedelics Oscar’s been ingesting on a regular basis. However, even his friends have their own sinister intentions. After being shot by the police, Oscar drifts out of his body, beginning the spiraling, style over substance voyage. From here on out, we drift through walls at breakneck speeds, hover over moments of melodrama where Oscar’s friends and enemies deal with his death, or twirl around absent-mindedly over the flashy Tokyo skyline.
Let me be clear: this movie is not for everyone. Most of it is spent hanging from the ceiling at haphazard angles, watching the past, present and future play out through the POV of Oscar’s spirit or his memories. Slow, tedious moments are starkly contrasted by the energetic thrashes of hyper-sexual, ultra-violent imagery. Spells of drawn-out sequences clash against barrages of over-stimulation. Enter the Void is utterly uncompromising and exclusive.
At times its nonlinear narrative plays out more like a schizophrenic, Freud-obsessed montage of sex and violence. But the moments where Enter the Void settles into the sublime allow us to transcend its faults and ascend into the heights this spiritual journey reaches for. And it reaches it. Transitions are colorful, resorting to free association, linking scenes in what may be one of the boldest efforts in surrealist, stream-of-consciousness cinema I’ve ever seen. The acting is just believable enough to draw you in and hold you inside Oscar’s skull while you ride his perception. Particularly, the child actor who plays a young Linda. Watching her scream through the incomprehensible trauma of her parents’ death was a spine-chilling synergy of admiration for her acting prowess and deep disturbance by its authenticity. Noé keeps the Doors of Perception wide open with this feature. His affinity for neon-blaring geometry and contorting fractals spliced over a carnal narrative plays out like a neuroDJ remixing consciousness from the very fibers of existence.
Enter the Void is an at times sluggish, but predominantly captivating experiment with the medium of cinema. It’s an experience that voraciously divorces itself from being an entertainment product while playing with the possibilities of what a movie can be. Despite technical limitations, some grainy cinematography here and there, Enter the Void atavistically searches for and reevaluates the roots of visual storytelling. Love him or loathe him, Noé is trying to do something new with cinema, and Enter the Void is ground zero. Whether the creative blast radius has any lingering effects on moviegoers remains to be seen. Although its dismal performance at the box office is telling.