Enter the Void

Enter the Void is a film by the French director, Gaspar Noé. It tells the story of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), an American drug dealer who lives in Tokyo with his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who works as a stripper. At the urging of his friend, Alex (Cyril Roy), Oscar has been reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead. During a police raid, Oscar is shot to death. (It appears that Japanese cops are every bit as trigger-happy as American cops.) We then see things from the perspective of Oscar’s soul floating above the city. He observes Linda and Alex and other people he knows. He also relives experiences from his past, observing himself from behind his shoulder. Noé has said that the film should be viewed as a dream rather than a depiction of life after death: “the whole movie is a dream of someone who read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and heard about it before being [shot by a gun]. It’s not the story of someone who dies, flies and is reincarnated, it’s the story of someone who is stoned when he gets shot and who has an intonation of his own dream.”

I’m not sure what Noé means by “an intonation of his own dream.” However, it is clear to me that being familiar with The Tibetan Book of the Dead helps to understand this movie. (Noé says he is non-religious.) For example, towards the end of the film there is a series of scenes of people having sex. I could see no reason for this as I watched the movie. I have since learned, however, that according to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, just before the soul is reborn it has a series of hallucinations, typically of men and women passionately entwined. I suspect that if I were to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, other things in the film would make more sense to me. However, I’m not keen on reading religious texts, so I’m not inclined to read one just to understand a movie.

Noé has said that the visual style of the film was influenced by his use of hallucinogens in the past. There are, indeed, scenes that look very much like things one would see under the influence of hallucinogens. At times this film comes remarkably close to reproducing the sensation of tripping.

What struck me most about the film, however, is its unrelentingly grim view of life. We’re never shown any scenes of people of laughing or enjoying themselves, except for a few brief scenes of Oscar’s early childhood. What’s more, Noé tends to dwell on scenes of human suffering. The impression this film gives is that the only times when people aren’t miserable is when they’re getting high or having sex. (It turns out that the title actually refers to the experience of being born.) Noé has said that the subject of the film is “the sentimentality of mammals and the shimmering vacuity of the human experience.” Clearly, this is not meant to be a “feel good” movie.

The relationship between Oscar and Linda is strange. For example, Oscar is supposedly deeply attached to his sister, yet he shows no concern when she gets a job as a stripper. The film hints at an incestuous relationship between the two. In one scene, Linda nibbles on Oscar’s ear in a sexually suggestive manner. In another scene, they quarrel like lovers.

Some humor would have helped this film. (After all, I’ve been told that even Buddha had a sense of humor.) Perhaps Noé was afraid this wouldn’t convey “the shimmering vacuity of the human experience.”

I found Enter the Void visually fascinating, but I didn’t care for its ponderously bleak view of life.

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