Billed by director Gaspar Noe as a “psychedelic melodrama” inspired by his hallucinogen-powered screening of “Lady in the Lake,” “Enter the Void” suggests the Gallic provocateur should get some better drugs. Not clever enough to be truly pretentious, Noe’s tiresomely gimmicky film about a low-level Tokyo drug dealer who enjoys one long, last trip after dying proves to be the ne plus ultra of nothing much. Having come in under the wire for Cannes competition, “Enter the Void” may once again be ready to enter the editing room.
While the overall audacity of the project can’t easily be denied, “Enter the Void” delivers an altogether different kind of pain than the director’s earlier pair of punishing provocations, “I Stand Alone” and “Irreversible.” Not even Noe’s detractors expect his work to be boring, but, at 162 minutes, the new film has more than its share of longueurs — despite showing what happens after death as seeing a lot of people having sex.
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Noe’s opening scene of a Kubrickian “star child” journey — triggered by the dope-smoking dealer’s repeated tokes — sends false promises that “Enter the Void” will be a methamphetamine-era version of the ultimate trip in “2001.”
But, the film contains only a half-dozen or so vision-questing shots that could help it to pass as avant-garde. Some viewers will nonetheless insist on calling this an exercise in pure cinema; many others will prefer to describe it as pure trash.
Including graphic images of an abortion procedure, “Enter the Void” eventually becomes a vulgar version of a kid’s “Where did I come from?” query, complete with a shot from the p.o.v. of an egg-bound sperm. It begins, though, merely as a puerile fantasy of what happens after death.
In the course of a drug deal gone bad, young Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) dies from a gunshot wound in the filthy toilet stall of the Void, a club that some will insist is of the same corpus as the Rectum in “Irreversible.” Never subtle, Noe unleashes a literally flashy stroboscopic effect as our hero breaks on through to the other side.
Flashbacks reveal Oscar to have made a childhood promise to his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) — now a stripper — that he’d never leave her. True to his pledge, and despite having been cremated, Oscar floats spectrally through Tokyo.
Via digital effects, the camera — i.e., Oscar’s watchful spirit — seems to fly above city streets, up the sides of skyscrapers, through walls, and down various passages including a fallopian tube and, appropriately, a sewer.
For better or worse, the film’s production team has adequately fulfilled the director’s wishes, which include far too many sweeping shots of neon-bathed Tokyo at night.
In terms of style, the film does begin with a certain integrity, mirroring the fully subjective approach of “Lady in the Lake,” Robert Montgomery’s 1947 noir. But soon enough, the camera is all over the place — spiraling into the void of Oscar’s bullet hole and out of a child’s playground crawl space, for example.
In another stylistic copout, the film’s many flashback scenes aren’t arranged according to the character’s drug- and death-induced free associations, but rather based on Noe’s sense of what rudimentary info his audience may require to follow the barebones narrative.
Notwithstanding de la Huerta’s full-frontal turn, the actors often perform with their backs to the camera. The film’s English dialogue, exceedingly banal and overemphatically delivered, seems designed for international screening sans subtitles or dubbing. The soundtrack alternates between Christian organ music, bass-heavy club beats, and a persistent churning noise familiar to those who’ve seen Noe’s other films.
More than two hours in, as Noe’s camera roves at random through the so-called Love Hotel, the film peaks with a series of explicit sex scenes. The last of countless putative endings finds the director suggesting that after the one’s umbilical cord is cut, it’s all downhill from there.
In Cannes, the film was screened sans credits save for “ENTER” at the beginning and, aptly enough, “THE VOID” at the end.