Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘Enter The Void’

Enter The Void is the psychedelic melodrama that creates a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

I don’t indulge in any mind-altering substances other than maybe to an extent my antidepressants, but those are prescribed and I take them only once a day. Throughout my life, I have always wondered what it would feel like to watch films in an altered mental state. It is for own my well-being that I don’t indulge in any of these substances though. Now, there are two films that, in my opinion, make me feel as if I am in another plane of existence. The first one happens to be Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey specifically when we enter into the bending of space and time. The other film is Gaspar Noé’s third feature and passion project, Enter the Void. Both films I believe are one-of-a-kind cinematic experiences that utilize many of our five senses to feel this transformation. While exploring the rest of Gaspar’s films back in 2018, this was the last film of his I watched. I specifically remember finding the DVD copy at my alma mater’s library. I would usually go to the library every other weekend and check out five films (mostly those in The Criterion Collection). At this point, I already had a clear understanding of Gaspar Noé’s style, so I checked out Enter the Void, and since then I would never look at filmmaking the same ever again.

Enter the Void is directed by Gaspar Noé and written by him with the help of his wife, Lucile Hadzilhalilovic. The film is believed to loosely adapt the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The film stars Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, and Ed Spear. Enter the Void is mostly presented from the first-person point of view perspective. The film’s photography is crafted by the director of photography, Benîot Debie. Thomas Bangalter composes the score for this film again after composing Noé’s Irreversible.

The film follows Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) who is murdered by the police after his friend Victor sets him up at a club in a neon-lit Tokyo called, The Void. After Oscar dies he has an out-of-body experience that allows him to travel through Tokyo and experience the effects of his death on his loved ones’ lives. He watches as his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) copes with her loss, his friend Alex (Cyril Roy) leaves his life of drug use/dealing, and Victor (Olly Alexander) burns his bridges. Gaspar Noé has gone as far as to describe this film as a psychedelic melodrama that is concentrated on the experience of the film.

Enter the Void is a hallucinatory experience that explores themes of motherhood, love, existence, and death. It is coated in a mesmerizing visual language filled with neon lights and an interesting approach to camera movements. The performance even though not a big aspect still finds its way to feel raw through the vibrations of Paz de la Huerta’s acting. I love this film because as mentioned it changed the way I looked at filmmaking. Around this time, I was barely starting to understand the world of experimental film. I approached my style of filmmaking with many films in mind and one of them was Enter the Void. Of course, the longer 161 minutes version is better but both versions contain the very experience that Noé intends to display. The first-person point of view and floating camera are never distracting. Once again, we are treated to a film that only Gaspar Noé could make.

Before I continue, I would love to once again bring up a wonderful film essay made by Spikima Movies. Spikima Movies concentrates on the visual presentation of trauma in Enter the Void within their video essay. The trauma expressed is such an important thematic element of the film. The trauma acts as the backbone of our story at hand within Enter the Void. Linda and Oscar haven’t had the easiest life. On top of losing their parents, both have to be separated from each other for most of their teenage and young adult lives. One had to be thrown into the legal foster care system which in itself is not the easiest thing to experience. The siblings’ loss is felt through the film and expressed in various ways. Linda expresses her grief with her constant need for Oscar to be her protector. She needs someone who will not take care of her physically because she is fully capable of that, but she does need someone who will be there to hear her out. She loves her brother because they have an unbreakable bond that has been able to live through their traumatic loss. Oscar is not that different from his sister, even though drugs are most of the time an escape from this reality. I find the symbol of the nipple in this film to be interesting. When a baby is born they cut the umbilical cord which is the literal connection to the mother. The baby is no longer directly connected to its mother and therefore must find another way to stay connected. Well, look no further than breastfeeding and its visual representation of connectivity. A baby consumes milk directly from their mother and for as long as the baby may need it they are physically connected to their mother. There is a scene where you see a younger version of Oscar walking in on his mother as she breastfeeds Linda. Alex even mentions that doing LSD is a lot like sucking on his mother’s nipple. Even when Oscar is having sex with Victor’s mother he proceeds to first suck the nipples. Yes, Gaspar Noé states that the ending is Oscar reliving his birth as a false dream showcasing his most traumatic moment. The camera dips into his mother’s nipple to once again feed and experience the pain of existing without a mother.

Of course, death is another highly important aspect of the film. Noé describes that the film is mostly viewing life after death while on drugs. Death is used as a motif but as the inciting incident, it allows for events to unravel. Linda seems to finally understand that she should be with Alex instead of Mario. Even though death can be a distressing and heartbreaking thing in the world of Enter the Void it leads to some good things. Alex has cleaned himself up and will be able to be there for Linda. One would hope that this leads to a healthy relationship between the two. On the other hand, death leads Victor into an unhealthy path of burning his bridges with his parents and Linda. After being told by Linda that he should kill himself, we never know what happens to Victor since that last confrontation. If death is what finally sets Oscar free of all his problems then the ending is a reminder that reincarnation is more of a punishment for our protagonist. That is where the true experience of Enter the Void is felt.

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