Broken on through to the other side
Enter the Void, psychedelic odyssey, not rated, The Screen, 2.5 chiles
A young westerner who deals drugs in Tokyo gets shot in a bathroom stall during a bust. The camera subsequently takes on the role of the dead man’s spirit, drifting above the rooftops and through ceilings in some of the seedier neighborhoods of the city, following, like some kind of guardian angel, the sister with whom he has had an incestuously close relationship. Flashbacks from the dead man’s childhood supply more blood, sex, and tragedy. It is endless night.
French director Gaspar Noé made a name for himself with the 2002 film Irréversible, which stood out at film festivals for its reverse narrative, experimental visual effects, and extreme violence. Enter the Void, which the director has labeled a “psychedelic melodrama,” is not without violence but takes a sharp turn toward predominantly hallucinogenic imagery and an even less linear story line. A 164-minute cut of the film was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, but the version being distributed in the United States is more than 20 minutes shorter. Even so, be ready for a ride through extremely long sequences of trippy
a kind of spiritual guide to the afterlife, suggesting the path for the soul to take between the time of death and rebirth, is, not surprisingly, the book Oscar has been reading. “I know I’m not a junkie,” he says to himself, over and over again, as the camera settles down on the sofa with him to get high. He may not be a junkie, but he is clearly a mess.
In another flashback, the love of brother and sister is established in a thumb-slicing, blood-swapping ceremony during which the two children swear they will never be apart. Shortly afterward, Linda is dragged off, following the deaths of their guardian grandparents, into foster care. The fact that Oscar, as an adult, saves enough money in his new career as a Tokyo drug dealer to bring his sister over from the U.S. might be a happily-ever-after moment in another film. Here, big brother takes little sister to a disco, feeds her Ecstasy, and watches as she is lured into becoming a stripper. So much for happy endings.
Clearly Enter the Void is not designed for general audiences. Its nihilistic world of sex and drugs offers no typical movie-land redemption. Still, the vast amount of digital effects in play are transporting, like the light shows that computer screens are programmed to offer as accompaniment to music, and Noé’s experimentation with narrative works in its own dreamy way. Best seen for its arty spirit of adventure and wild sense of design, the heart of the film, coming from a director who offers the point of view of a self-proclaimed atheist, is not for the easily depressed. For Noé, life, death, and rebirth, at least in this film, is a colorful but ultimately bad trip. imagery set to an ambient musical score. If you’ve always wanted to try LSD, or psilocybin mushrooms, but have been afraid to — this is the movie for you. In a year when so many films are being offered in 3-D, Enter the Void would be redundant in that enhanced format. It’s 2-D to the max.
Unlike Sofia Coppola, whose Lost in Translation saw the characters played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson brought together amid the strangeness and intensity of Tokyo, Noé seems more interested in the city because of the way it looks — the constant jolt of neon out of blackness — and because of the notoriously harsh anti-drug laws there, which heighten the stakes. Noé’s characters only come apart.
Oscar and Linda, the brother and sister at the center of the “story,” (played as adults by Nathaniel Brown and Paz de la Huerta) were riding in the back seat of the family car as children when their parents were killed in a head-on collision with a truck. Flashback memories not only appear throughout the film in seemingly random order but repeat. A scene of young Linda sobbing behind the bloody corpses of her parents, trapped in wreckage, begins to take on more than shock value the third or fourth time around. Noé seems to suggest that the most devastating moments of our lives are essential. They stay with us, beyond even our deaths.
The afterlife in this film is treated uncannily like the drug-induced tripping Oscar subjects himself to early in the story. In fact, Oscar is under the influence of a hallucinogen at the time of his death. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is
Tuned in and turned on: Paz de la Huerta
Too close for comfort: Jesse Kuhn and Emily Alyn Lind