Written by Andy Kubica
Warning: This review has spoilers. Please stop now if you don’t want to read all about Enter the Void.
Oscar’s parents were killed in a horrific automobile accident when he was just a child. His sister, Linda, and he were also contained within the vehicle and survived with only slight battle damage. This incident set up the children with a strong bond only having each other to count on so they made a pact to always be there for each other. Unfortunately, after the grandparents died, Oscar and Linda were separated which was torture for the very young Linda. Years later, Oscar is now living in Tokyo and making a living as a small time drug dealer. He has friends like Alex and Victor, but wants his sister, who is still living in the USA, to join him. As a result of his drug peddling, he is able to afford to have her come abroad and he is excited to have her travel to be with him.
In addition to selling drugs, Oscar also does his share of substance abuse, gaining pleasure from the psychotropic effects. He lounges around his apartment basking in their glorious delights when he receives a call from Victor to meet him at a local club, The Void, for an exchange of merchandise. Unfortunately, Oscar quickly realizes when he arrives it is a trap. The police charge him and his only recourse is to stammer to the restroom and attempt to flush his pills before he is detained and arrested. In his haste and frenzy to do so, he is halted by a bullet through his chest from outside the room. His now lifeless body sinks to the floor.
This is where things get interesting.
On their journey to The Void, Oscar and Alex discussed Oscar’s recent reading of the book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which involves the afterlife, out of body experiences and reincarnation. Indeed this now occurs as Oscar lies lifeless on the bathroom floor. His “soul” or “spirit” leaves his body and floats around the room observing subsequent actions of others and seemingly trying to figure out what has just occurred.
Meanwhile Linda, who has a job as a stripper/prostitute at a local dance club, performs various dances, sexual acts on her clients trying to make a living herself while still maintaining a close relationship with her brother. Understandably, she is torn with emotion when hearing of his death and even having to go to the morgue to identify his body. Afterwards, her sex with local sleaze ball, Mario, has left her pregnant giving her more emotional upheaval having to cope with her decision to get an abortion. Friends Alex and Victor have their own struggles of the events as well having to deal with the police investigation into Oscar’s death, trying to discern the identity of the main drug dealer in the neighborhood and Oscar’s affair with his friend’s mother.
The film is presented by avant-garde filmmaker, Gaspar Noé, who had experienced success with his also controversial film, Irreversible, in 2002. The plot of the film almost seems secondary to the style in which Noé weaves the photography and colours for his visionary work. He has said he drew inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey and you can see its influences in the drug induced colour dance sequence at the beginning of the film. The stark contrast in colours from the bright Tokyo downtown nighttime vista to the dark, subtle murmur of light from the indoor scenes is remarkable to delight. There are other scenes of a black light model Tokyo cityscape within a small apartment to overhead scrolling of the Love Hotel which are truly breathtaking. The use of combined actual camera/helicopter shots, CGI effects and the use of models are blended seamlessly so the audience is not taken out of scenes while they are watching as Oscar transcends his physical form to engage in viewing entire city blocks by merely willing his soul to do so.
Some sequences felt like Noé’s Irreversible, which was told in reverse chronological order or Nolan’s Memento in which the main character loses his memory every day and has to rely on his own notes to recall what had happened to him previously. In this case, scenes are revisited multiple times including the car crash which killed Oscar’s parents to the scene where the children make their pact, to deliver additional information which you hadn’t seen the previous time around. The audience had also experienced more of the film’s journey already, so retuning to those moments, you feel like you understand more motivations this time around.
The “first person” style of the film is also starkly unique and gives Oscar’s postmortem journey reimagined purpose. You only see his face twice leaving the remainder for the audience to watch over his shoulder or view events from behind his eyes or hover at the top of the room. While not horror, the movie is extreme in its depiction of sexual acts including every incarnation of the Kama Sutra during extended overhead sequences and even a vivid, detailed depiction of an abortion. The use of camera for the multiple zoom in pull back scenes, including a zoom of the actual abortion, were interesting and disgusting simultaneously. Having seen an abundance of films myself, I am not bothered by this type of imagery, but my wife referred to the film as “Japanese porn”.
I am always torn when reviewing films which some consider to be “style over substance”; however, in this case, I was completely mesmerised and taken in by Oscar and Linda’s world and all its spectacle and couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Having never done any recreational drugs myself, I had to rely on my own wits and deductive and cognitive abilities to keep pace with Noé’s virtuoso use of the medium of film. He is one of the most interesting current filmmakers as he continuously attempts to show audiences something new and fresh. I can see how his work can be polarising, but you can never come away from watching one of his films saying it was something you had seen before.
I applaud him for this. 5 out of 5 stars.