Saturday, January 22, 2011
Film Review: Enter The Void
I've left films feeling delirious before. Spinning. Staggering. Dizzy. It happens - Black Swan or Antichrist or Funny Games - not often, but it happens. But then how is it that the film in perpetual orbit, Gaspar Noe's newly penned neon bible Enter the Void, achieves not dizziness, but a kind of clarity?
I don't know. Let's get to the bottom of this.
To state the obvious, Enter the Void is something completely different. It's living, glowing proof that cinema isn't quite dead yet. As long as there are visionaries like Noe not only charting new territory, but showing us the familiar in ways we've never imagined, then the battle between film as an art and film as a product will not be lost. And that new territory is something to behold; a world observed from impossible perspectives in which everything feels intimately connected, not organically, but electrically, and if that doesn't make immediate sense it's because there really is no precedent for what's going on here. To experience it is to take on the perspective of a ghost, incapable of interaction and at the whim of sensory triggers that will catapult you into the deepest recesses of your memory. The revelations of Enter the Void are not unlike discovering the world is round.
The need-to-know plot points are simple and readily apparent. Oscar, an American drug dealer living with his sister Linda in Tokyo, is shot down by police in a drug raid. Taking cues from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the film assumes the perspective of its fallen protagonist and hovers with (as) him through past, present and future. This takes no small amount of time, over two and a half hours in fact, over the course of which you are lulled not into sleep, but to atrophy, as your limbs fall silent and your heartbeat slows until there's nothing but a mind and a pair of eyes fused entirely with the screen itself. The effect is hallucinatory, and it allows no small detail to go unnoticed. The objects and images that bear significance in the Oscar's memory come to hold similar power over us. This all leads time and again to the traumatic incident at the core of Oscar and Linda's relationship, a fool-me-once kind of scene that no less than three times would have had me dive from my seat had the spell of the film not kept me utterly still.
Two things in particular place Enter the Void in a category of its own, starting with the amazing connection between camera, character and surroundings. It's a film that fully inhabits its own world, as you follow characters in and out of buildings, both from behind and above, and the enter Tokyo neighborhood becomes one space, from Oscar's dingy apartment to the streets teaming with miscreants to the end-of-the-line titular bar that practically wears a sign saying "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." And then there's the moment where the hovering camera first takes flight and the world is no longer confined to that neighborhood, but the skies and the entire city. In passing through locations there are from time to time edits, but they're executed with such fluidity that the seams are just another part of the aesthetic - shadows between the glowing lights.
The second triumph of the film is its investigation of memory, explored on its own terms, and with greater success than any film since Last Year at Marienbad. Editing again makes this possible, and the film's use of jump cuts is among the best I've ever seen. They become both the perfect illusion of blackouts amidst delirium and an economical means of confining life's details to just the most important points. And we can't help but notice details within those details, (no need to spell them out, thank you Inception) like the stuffed toy that Linda carries upon her arrival in Toyko, identical to the one in here childhood bedroom, and suddenly we're awakened to the possibility that this might instead be an imagined past, an alternate reality concocted solely in the mind of Oscar, perhaps in the instant before death or perhaps, as the film would have it, through the blurry afterlife his spirit/our perspective is confined to. The selective, even faulty nature of memory has never been more apparent than when the body is left behind and the point of view becomes omniscient, although there's no trace of the divine in this city of concrete and neon. Like the endless buildings of Tokyo, Oscar's memories are man-made constructs.
That's all the encouragement you need to go see this, right? If not, Boardwalk Empire fans can surely be lured in by Paz de la Huerta spending the usual 50 percent of her screen time stark naked (she's also by far the best actor in the cast, but nothing about Enter the Void is driven by performance). It's such a consuming experience that it may prove easier to appreciate than to love, but it needs to be seen, if for no other reason to encourage such out-of-the-box approaches to film-making.