The opening credits to Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void are a graphic designer’s nightmare, an assaultive display of garish colors, designs, and fonts. Words and names flicker in neon like a Paul Sharits film filtered through the aesthetic of a Las Vegas billboard. It’s hilariously over the top but kind of incredible all the same, a go-for-broke, spectacular display of empty-headedness.
If Enter the Void is anything, it’s spectacle. Noé has said his inspiration came from tripping on mushrooms during a screening of Robert Montgomery’s first-person noir Lady in the Lake, but he pushes that film’s aesthetic gambit even further, taking the point of view not of a detective, but of a dead person’s soul. The camera soars over buildings and through walls, jumps between past and present and from one location to another, taking a few detours along the way for psychedelic color-field freak-outs.
The soul in question belongs to Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), an American living in Tokyo and supporting himself by dealing drugs. In the opening segment of the film, Oscar smokes DMT before going to a local club called The Void, where a sale gone wrong results in Oscar being shot and killed in a bathroom stall. For Noé, this is just the beginning, as Oscar’s trip into the afterlife provides Enter the Void with its narrative and visual thrust. Oscar watches from above as his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) tries to deal with his death, moving occasionally into the past to trace his and Linda’s journey from their tragic childhoods to tragic present.
Enter the Void is far less interested in substance than in substances, so what limited value Noé’s hallucinatory fantasia has is strictly sensual. Noé has said that his previous film, the controversial Irréversible, was a dry run for this one, and indeed it does take that film’s aggressive style to new extremes. But where Irréversible (a near-masterpiece to my mind) put its style toward genuinely serious moral and philosophical inquiry, Enter the Void is just empty showboating. Irréversible, through directorial intervention into cinematic space-time, symbolically rescues Monica Bellucci’s victimized sex object from masculine brutality. Enter the Void shows a penis penetrating a vagina from inside the vagina, which is, like, so totally out there.
None of this is to deny that Enter the Void can be genuinely dazzling. Noé remains a phenomenal stylist and technician, and there are moments in the film not quite like anything else in narrative cinema. (Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale is a clear influence, in style if not sensibility.) It seems designed for drug-enhanced viewings, where everything stupid and faux-provocative might be outweighed by its acid-trip sensory overload. But viewed sober, Enter the Void’s buzz wears off after about 30 minutes, and the movie keeps going, inexplicably, for 130 more, until, like a bad trip, you just wish it would fucking stop.
Not quite doing full justice to the most striking of Enter the Void’s images, the Blu-ray image is adequate but lacking in clarity, especially in black-heavy scenes—and there are many. The color fields and neon-heavy interiors fare better, but far more could have been done. The same goes for the audio, which is fine but too muted to really capture the film’s jackhammer aesthetic.
It’s hard to believe that Gaspar Noé left anything out of Enter the Void, but the Blu-ray includes eight deleted scenes, ranging from the striking to painful—the latter thanks largely to de la Huerta, who looks phenomenal naked but can’t act at all. A featurette on the film’s rather astonishing computer effects shows visually how certain scenes were crafted almost entirely digitally. Like Enter the Void itself, the feature becomes rather repetitive early on, but where else are you going to see the steps involved in creating a CGI aborted fetus? The disc also includes several teasers and trailers, as well as two featurettes that combine the film’s psychedelic "vortex" and DMT sequences into two convenient, acid-friendly loops.
If Irréversible was Noé’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Enter the Void is his Pink Floyd laser show.