10 October 2010 | colinrgeorge
Enter at Your Own Risk
One thing's for sure, you won't leave Gaspar Noé's "Enter the Void" with comparisons ready. More than likely, you won't want to think about it at all. Over two and a quarter hours, the film hijacks your consciousness like a potent hallucinogen, and leaves you feeling burnt out and brain-fried on the other end.
Is it worth the trip? Yes, with an asterisk. After all, the opportunity to see something this flagrantly original comes but once in a blue moon, yet it isn't the sort of experience many will enjoy having. "Enter the Void" begins with a strobing title sequence that explodes into a first person account of drugs and death in Tokyo; it ought to come with a seizure warning. Compounding matters, almost every scene is designed to look like one continuous shot, with the camera being placed either behind our protagonist Oscar's head, or behind his eyelids. As if the pulsating neon lights weren't enough, we're also subjected to the split-second blackouts of Oscar blinking.
Visually, "Enter the Void" is unlike anything I've ever seen, but it sure ain't perfect. The problem, bluntly, is its amorphous, front-heavy structure. The first half plays out conventionally enough, beginning with what we assume is the end, and playing flashback catch up to contextualize the subsequent events. We arrive back in the present to neatly tie the knot, only to discover that Noé isn't remotely close to finished telling his story.
Where he takes "Enter the Void" in its ethereal second half is actually pretty fascinating, conceptually. However, it feels like an entirely different film. Noé floats aimlessly back and forth across Neo-Tokyo (to support the 'one shot' aesthetic, he rarely cuts directly from one location to another, often necessitating that the camera move through walls and entire buildings). The film really wears its premise thin during this overlong stint, though the last twenty minutes mostly redeem it.
The conclusion is a little predictable given that the characters seem to be arbitrarily engrossed by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but it works because it boils "Enter the Void" down to its visual core. Somewhere along the way, the lines of the narrative are obliterated and Noé takes a hypnotically beautiful and bizarre psychosexual detour that bridges the gap to his ending nicely.
In retrospect, it's easy to remember the curious power of its final moments and marginalize the boredom that divides it from the first, much stronger hour. The film would almost certainly benefit from a second viewing, but I'm still not entirely sure that I would ever grant it one. I seriously question how Noé and his editor could stand to watch and assemble this film all day every day, because even their 137-minute finished product is a workout for the eyes. God help us if it were released in 3D.
But for better or worse, eyestrain is part of the experience, and "Enter the Void" is more an incomparable experience than a great film. It's a shame that the vast majority of its potential audience will never even have the opportunity to see it projected, as I can only imagine home video will diminish its psychedelic impact.
The best recommendation I can make is that if, like me, you go out of your way to see distinctly different films, you'll get your money's worth with "Enter the Void." Objectively, it's hard to deny the incredible creative scope and visual audacity on display, but it's also hard not to wish the whole thing were just a wee bit more succinct.
It ain't perfect, but "Enter the Void" is original, and there's no undervaluing that. Hell, I'll try anything once.