(Not So) Boozie Movies At Danger After Dark! ENTER THE VOID Review
[Back in January regular Twitch reader indiemaker drank a great deal of alcohol, watched Isaac Florentine's Ninja and sent us a wildly entertaining review as a result. He has maintained this tradition throughout Philadelphia's Danger After Dark Festival but in the case of Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void decided that the movie was all the mind alteration he needed.]
Enter the Void has been a popular point of discussion here at Twitch for almost two years now. I feel like I'm coming to the game too late. Is this review redundant at this point?
I don't think so. Nearly every review I've read of Noe's notorious mindfuck almost exclusively discusses the specifics of the many explicit images. Much like Irreversible will forever be remembered for its brutal rape scene, Enter the Void has become a hotbed of discussion for its explicit abortion sequence, hardcore sex, and intense psychedelic imagery. But there's so much more to this than just that.
I went into the film expecting to hate it. I already had a full page of jokes and insults written before the screening. I was expecting another Irreversible filtered through the abstract esotericism of Mathew Barney's Cremester Cycle.
I admired both I Stand Alone & Irriversible when I was in college. In fact, I saw Irreversible twice in the theaters when it opened. But over time, I've lost a lot of my appreciation for it. I still respect what Noe did, but the film has come to feel like a cheap gimmick. It's still a technical marvel, but the message is so simple minded that it doesn't justify the brutality for me anymore.
Fortunately, Gasper Noe has grown up. He's still a punk, and his goal is once again to draw lines and boundaries that obliterates with intentionally abrasive, off putting material. But it wasn't nearly as sophomoric as I Stand Alone or IRRERVERSIBLE.
ENTER THE VOID isn't really a film, and it's nearly impossible for me to review or critique it as such. It sounds trite, but this is an experience. By now, I'm sure you're familiar with the story and the structure of the film, so I'm going to describe my own personal experience with what I saw. I think the film's success depends solely on the viewer's own personal connection to the material.
Obviously, the city of Tokyo plays a significant role. It's just as much of a character as Oscar, the doomed drug dealer whose own eyes we literally see the film unfold through. You can think of this as a Lost in Translation for rejects as the film tackles one of the same themes, identity.
Lost in Translation is about a whiny, rich, confused white girl unsure of her future and marriage. She connects with an older actor also struggling with his identity in a foreign and exotic city that exemplifies their alienation. They comfort in their shared isolation. Ah. It was just so damn cute, bittersweet, and melancholia. Well, ENTER THE VOID is about an orphan with nothing who runs away to Tokyo to reinvent himself only to lose all sense of self and morality and spirals out of control on a path of self destruction that leads to his death.
This was something that I could identify with. I am one of those many people who ran away to Tokyo to disappear. I joke a lot and criticize Japan-o-philes and nerds in my writing because I am one. Most people with a serious interest in a foreign culture, particularly Japan, are often those who can't relate to their own. Japan attracts a very different breed of people. There are different levels and types of Japan-ophiles. There's the manga obsessed Otakus who often try to become Japanese, there's the anthropological Japan-o-philes, scholarly types who set out to solve Japan's mysteries. And then there's the people like Oscar, those who are just running away only to discover the benefits of Gaijin power.
I have a favorite quote from a close friend whom I lived with in Kabuki Cho which I believe is where Oscar lives in the film. "Tokyo is the circus from Pinocchio for white men. They go there and are so spoiled without any consequences, that it's inevitable they eventually become jackasses."
I knew Oscar. I backpacked with him through Kyoto, drank with him in Osaka, partied with him in the clubs of Roponggi, and scored hash with him in Shibuya. I can only hope that I only knew him and actually the same as him.
ENTER THE VOID lays the self destructive behavior on thick and some audience members resulted to laughter at the outlandish actions of Oscar, his sister, and their friends. But it felt all too real for me. Thanks to Oscar, his sister quickly becomes an X-head on her arrival in Japan. I met her type in Osaka, the daughter of a foreign consulate who did massive amounts of cocaine in the bathroom of a sleazy club only to leave for a love hotel with 4 other foreigners for a night of unprotected sex. The following morning, she stumbled into the common area of the youth hostel we were staying at in the early morning naked and covered in bruises. The kicker is that she shit herself in front of everyone during breakfast.
Japan can bring out the worst in people. Losing all sense of self is a dangerous thing; it allows a person to drop all inhibitions, and eventually, morality. And that's what you often find in Tokyo, foreigners with absolutely zero sense of restraint.
Oscar deals drugs to a whiney rich kid whose lonely mother pays him for sex. When the brat discovers this, he sets Oscar up for the police. On paper, this sounds awful. Describing the film's plot unfairly paints it as one big misery fest. It may seem like overkill for many, and again, parts of my audience were laughing, but it felt damn authentic to me.
ENTER THE VOID isn't just about the loss of identity. It's really about consequences from doing so. When Oscar dies, we continue to see things through his perspective as a spirit floating over Tokyo watching over his sister and friends. Oscar slips in and out of time allowing us to witness partial memories that show us how he came to be the person that he was before he died. And of course, we see the results of his reckless actions.
The film is painfully slow and there's long stretches where the screen only flashes a white strobe effect. Add in a constantly moving camera, and a complete lack of any cohesive, straightforward narrative, and the film tends to feel like a two hour and forty minute experimental piece. Well, I guess it is a two hour and forty minute experimental piece. But it worked for me, for the most part.
Like everyone else, I think the film needs to be cut down, but not by as much as others suggested. The film is constructed to break down the viewer into a state of hypnosis, and it takes time to really accomplish that. The film's long breaks into the "void" allow the viewer to reflect on themselves, their own memories, and their connection to their surroundings. The viewer is meant to have an out of body experience along with Oscar and whether that is achieved is dependent on the viewer's own commitment to the film. You'll get back whatever you're willing to put in.
This isn't going to be for everyone, and I completely understand the arguments against this film. Regardless of what your own experience is or was, it can't be denied that this is one of the most daring and original films of the last decade and a technical wonder to behold on a purely visual standpoint.
Words of caution, with the fact that this is often toted for its psychedelic traits, do not attempt to see this under any type of influence. I can't imagine a worst experience than watching this under said circumstances.
Review by indiemaker
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