SXSW 2010: ENTER THE VOID Review

This review contains both mild spoilers and enthusiastic praise.

Enter the Void is a 21st century "head" movie designed for consumers of psychedelics, designer drugs, and potent substances yet to be invented or discovered. Points of reference include the Star-Gate sequence from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and the work of experimental non-narrative filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, Tony Conrad, Stan Brakhage, and Jordan Belson. Gaspar Noe's goal is obviously not to tell a traditional story or create "likable" characters. The intent is to create an immersive experience that replicates varied states of human consciousness (real or imagined). To this end, Enter the Void is a success. The film is most certainly flawed: it is self-indulgent and barely holds together at times. However, the pureness of Gaspar Noe's vision and the innovative means by which his vision is achieved trumps any of the film's faults.

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz De La Huerta) are brother and sisters living in Tokyo. Oscar is a drug-dealer. Linda is a stripper. Oscar dies. Enter the Void is based on the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead), and is structured as a journey through the three bardos that come in the stages between death and reincarnation.

Enter the Void is designed to look like a single long take, but of course, this is an illusion achieved through seamless computer effects. In fact, much of the film is digitally manipulated, and contorted to reflect various states of consciousness. Marc Caro was art supervisor. Pierre Buffin was visual effects art director, and the digital effects were handled by his company BUF. If one examines Caro's Dante 01, which was also made with the involvement of Pierre Buffin, one can find the seeds of some of the digital effects work (e.g., anatomical cutaways). The effects in Enter the Void are far more ambitious and expensive, though. The entire film occurs from Oscar's perspective. What Oscar sees, the audience sees. Each time he blinks, the screen goes dark. When he smokes DMT, the squid-like geometric patterns appear before his and the audience's eyes. Most importantly, when Oscar dies, the audience follows along. Upon his death, the first-person perspective shifts from a person on the ground to that of a spirit looking at the world below with complete freedom of movement. The camera swirls, bobs, and rotates as if it's suspended in liquid. The camera zips back and forth across the strip joints, bars, and back alleys of Tokyo, which is color-tweaked into a bright neon dream world (or hell).

Adherence to the Bardo Thodol creates what may be the film's two greatest flaws: length and repetitiveness. Enter the Void currently runs two-and-a-half hours with events repeating multiple times as Oscar makes his way through the bardos. The length and repetitiveness seem to be a reflection of the source material. If one looks at it from this perspective, which seems closest to what the film is trying to accomplish, cutting it down defeats the purpose of the entire exercise. Also, it is entirely unclear how cutting it down to 120 minutes or even 90 minutes would "improve" it. The film has already been cut significantly since Cannes 2009.

This review only skims the surface of the weirdness, beauty, ugliness and surprise that Enter the Void contains. Experience it for yourself and make up your own mind. The film will be released theatrically in France in May 2010. An IFC Films release in the United States is slated for late 2010.
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