Some movies are so big it takes two grown men to tackle them and wrest forth their secrets. Know these two, their names bludgeoned into the frozen crevasse left after fortune's woes be spent: Joe McCulloch, Sean Witzke.
The Void, 2009
J - Hello, and welcome to our world-exclusive online discussion of Gaspar Noé’s the Five People You Meet in Heaven, #1: Your Sister’s Vagina. I’m Joe McCulloch, speaking in my native dialect of italics.
S - And I’m Sean Witzke, I will speak in the vile un-italicized tongue of my forefathers.
J - It’s funny - the first I heard of this thing was from its world premiere at Cannes 2009, where I think it kind of got buried a little near the back of a notoriously grim programming slate. This was the year Haneke won the Palme d’Or for The White Ribbon, and significant prizes went to the likes of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (Best Actress) and Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (Best Director). It probably didn’t help that Noé’s movie wasn’t entirely finished at that point, at least not in terms of sound design and visual effects -- and this is a movie that leans very heavily on the visceral effect that sound and image can produce -- but I also think that critics and journalists at the time found it to be a less substantial type of provocation given so many avenues for comparison. And I think looking at this is key to realizing what Enter the Void is, fundamentally.
Like, I haven’t seen Kinatay, but its reputation precedes it: it’s a true crime movie where segments take place inside a barely-lit vehicle and a woman is cut to pieces. Reactions varied, wildly, but I’ll risk the presumption that it operated along certain familiar art house aesthetic lines: cinematographic restrictions, shaky/observational camera work, maybe some theoretical underpinnings. Likewise, Antichrist openly declared itself informed by Tarkovsky, while its therapeutic underpinnings were not just openly discussed but kneaded into the substance of the film itself. The White Ribbon is Michael Haneke, which I think at this point contains an implied “and if you don’t like it you can fuck right off.” All of these movies contain Serious Cinema “ins,” if you will.
Enter the Void, on the other hand, is in Noé’s own words a “psychedelic melodrama,” stating as much in the picture’s Cannes programming guide. And while I think it’s easy to riff on the psychedelia, it’s really just as profoundly melodramatic, chock-full of sexual betrayal and agonized loved ones and ominous portents and screaming fights - it’s almost a bit like a Bollywood reincarnation picture that craps out at the Interval before the hero can grow to adulthood again and exact vengeance on the poof-headed British kid and fall in love with a girl also played by Paz de la Huerta. (Aamir Khan, call me!) Moreover, it’s spectacle - a rip-roaring see-it-on-the-best-screen-you-possibly-can mega-movie Event, as liable to beat you into highly entertained hamburger as Tony Scott at his worst behaved. And Noé accomplishes this by adapting techniques from experimental film, self-sustained pieces, sometimes science-minded evocations of mental/optic processes, and folding them into a very literal-minded, rather silly and often narratively conservative construct. Admittedly so, mind you: Noé estimates his work to be “80-percent... a traditional narrative movie.” That seems about right to me, and I wonder if the film’s pretty traditional “popular” aspects isolated it from the discussion surrounding the more aptly arty pictures of its season?
S - I haven’t seen Kinatay or The White Ribbon yet either, but from what I understand The White Ribbon is similar to Antichrist (which I have seen, and loved), where its not so much a movie as narrative as it is a movie as assault on movies and audiences themselves. You could probably connect Noé to Von Trier and Haneke if you tried but he’s a lot less formal in his audience blasting. Like, as much as I hate the term, Enter the Void and Irréversible are “experiential” movies. They are of that same provoking-the-audience mentality but Noé is more interested in how watching the movie makes you feel instead of how it makes you think. So the story - which is exactly the story you expect to see when you hear about the movie the first time - makes sense being the kind of traditional narrative. If you were forced you could really describe it as the first big cinematic response to Avatar.
J - Which fills me with some excited dread as to how Noé’s promised/threatened 3D porn movie will turn out. Probably my favorite part of his AV Club interview is where he expresses dismay over how people thought the (literally) climactic image of a penis thrusting toward the camera was funny - that kind of shot has shown up in porn! All artifice, but tethered to very visceral physical stimuli; I suppose that connects this movie to the next, in the way Irréversible might be connected to this one. But yes, there’s a tension here, where, like Avatar, it’s marrying visual excitement to a pretty basic plotline, but it’s also out to provoke you in a super-direct manner, executed via means borrowed from experimental films.
S - Oh when I saw it, literally that day I saw someone saying that action movies would be ripping off the inside-the-head pov shot from Rafael Grampá’s Mesmo Delivery and then it seems Noé beat them to it!
J - But let’s back up. You’ve mentioned really enjoying the credits to this? I think it’s reliably a favorite part for everyone.
S - Well it is really rare for opening credits to be memorable at all anymore - even when Edgar Wright brought Shynola out of retirement for Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World it was basically the same old thing. These credits - they feel like something brand new, and as much as you’re expecting the kind of experience that Irréversible was, this is about as harsh as the film gets. The credits are kind of the movie you expect the trailer to deliver, and they recall the end of Irréversible and the trailers for A Clockwork Orange, but that’s about it. The flickering and rapid-font changes and the LFO track (which I guess is a film-only cut-up of only 30 seconds of the song?) explain what you are in for in as fast and direct a manner as possible.
J - I’d go back even further than that, to Noé’s Carne, which was the short movie prequel to I Stand Alone - there were all these fat-font thudding titles tromping their way through the movie, really imposing. The titles to Enter the Void are like that aspect of Noé’s art to the nth power, and I think it’s important that it’s all packed up as tightly as possible in one big blast; in contrast, the closing credits (which we’ll get to) consist of exactly two words: “The Void.” I think that’s because as soon as the opening titles are over we’re into Noé’s simulation of life, wherein Oscar, the protagonist, is alive, and so the movie never obviously cuts for anything - when he’s walking to the club where he’ll meet his fate, we fucking walk with him (as him) all the fucking way, down the stairs, his eyes and our perspective actually blinking via black frames (or a digital simulacrum thereof). Everything that follows in the movie flows from that waking state of consciousness, so the titles kind of act as a preliminary assertion of Noé’s other favorite techniques, and even a bit of self-reflex - all those fonts kind of transform the people who made the film into neon logos on Tokyo’s buildings, as if they’re making up the scenery. Because, of course, this is artifice, albeit ‘experientially’ so, and thus they ARE.
What did you think of the waking bits? I don’t think Noé wasn’t quite able to avoid some cheesy elements - the interior monologue kind of flopped for me, after I figured out we’re hearing Oscar’s thoughts instead of his voice. At first I thought he was muttering everything to himself, which was funny since he insists he’s not a junkie -- even though he’s talking to himself all the time! -- but then I realized he’s not saying any of that out loud, after which it was a bit like too-perfect thought balloons in a comic. On the other hand, the little mini-experimental film consisting of Oscar just staring at the fucking ceiling for five minutes of screen time was kind of hilarious in retrospect.
S - I felt the same way, especially after he points out in the AV interview that the cuts back to Kier Dullea ruin the stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey for him, the narration really does the same thing for the opening bracket of the film. The blinking really does work the way he wants it to, at least it did for me. I guess the flickering does as well, but that’s less noticeable, but as a viewer you start to have sympathetic reactions and I did catch myself blinking every time the screen did. The narration, it does have a little of the Blade Runner filling-holes aspect. You really don’t get the feeling that Oscar has gone way too as a junkie far without him thinking about how much of a junkie Alex is as he climbs the stairs. It is also kind of there so when the morgue sequence happens, you can get the hint that it’s not real because there is no narration. Actually I should ask if you saw that version - I guess reel 7 of the movie is cut out wholesale in the US version and it tries to do the same pov-effect but something is wrong and maybe the narration was added to the opening just to help that effect.
J - No, I saw the U.S. contractual obligation edit (I presume it exists elsewhere, but I’m just calling it “the U.S. contractual obligation edit” due to my suspicion of foreign bodies of law, USA USA) which is the only version available On Demand. Funny, I actually thought “man, he kinda whiffed that transition” at one point in the movie -- it’s the bit where the camera dives into a pan of freshly extracted fetus kibble at an abortion clinic -- and lo and behold: that was exactly the part where the reel came out, because the final product had to be under so many minutes.
S - The transition at the end of that reel is the hokiest one in the film too, where Alex talks to the camera, but it has this great blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment just before it cuts where graffiti changes from LIFE to DEATH between camera-pan eyeline-moves (Scorsese/Anderson style). That reel is really the weakest part of the film - Oscar as a catatonic doesn’t work without Noé putting in extra work because he is a blank slate, even after an hour of his life story.
J - I’m getting ahead of myself again, but the blinking in the early parts of the film also provides a little bit on insight into the very end of the movie, since the purportedly reborn Oscar in the final scene never blinks or closes his eyes - more on that later.
You mention a lack of establishing background. One thing that got to me about the opening parts of the movie, despite its naturalistic, improvised style, is how utilitarian the dialogue between Oscar and Alex is. Like, in their walk to the club they manage to hash through pretty much everything we’re about to see per the Tibetan Book of the Dead, up to and including how the movie’s going to get a little wacky in the Love Hotel sequence near the end. And I think Noé realizes this, because there’s even a little bit where Alex mentions doing drugs that makes it seem like you’re talking to someone that’s not really there, which makes his awfully conspicuous warnings as to how much gear Oscar is carrying -- to say nothing of his refusal to enter the Void – a little suspicious, as if he’s only an expository avatar (hey!) of Oscar himself, his subconscious maybe alerting him of the danger he senses somewhere inside him. Naturally, this would affect Alex’s portrayal elsewhere in the movie, first as a kind of mythic spirit guide to Oscar, into the maze of Tokyo, and then as a surrogate body for him to finally make Linda, his sister, really happy for a while, via his penis.
S - That makes perfect sense too, because in the cut reel he actually tells Oscar that part of the hallucination is contradicting itself and disappears. So even if he’s not fulfilling that function in the opening, he really is. Just on a mechanical level - you need someone to tell the audience about the Book of the Dead, you need to tell the audience exactly what DMT is, even after you see Oscar taking it and staring at the ceiling. Alex is the mediator that you’d have Oscar question in a normal movie, but without a real opportunity for that stuff he just kind of tells you what you need to know and what’s going on whenever you might get lost. Him ending up with the sister - you expect it but it conflicts with his role just a little. He’s a cutscene character. Enter the Void for me is as much a post-gaming movie and as Avatar and Inception are, only these are movies more interested about being lost in shifting pov rather recreating the experience of video games.
J - I don’t think it conflicts so much, actually, if you take Alex as part of Oscar; I mean, it’s not like Oscar and Linda are actually involved in an incestuous relationship, in that we have no evidence to support that outside of things occurring in Oscar’s head, but clearly there is something going on in his head, presumably from not seeing her in so long, and then seeing her as a woman, and adding in all of his unresolved feelings about his mother, which hover around his relationship with the poofy-haired British kid’s mom - given all that, Oscar’s waking line to Alex about not talking about how attractive his sister is can come off as a bit of a self-rebuke, later defeated when Alex and Linda hook up in the end. I think it all pans out in sort of a similar way, depending on how literally you want to take the majority of the movie, be it a heroic narrative Oscar is constructing as to Alex temporarily saving his sister from despair, or a more sedate extrapolation of what’s happening after Oscar gets shot. But then - how does Alex phone Linda after Oscar is killed? And does the top in Inception ever stop spinning?!?
Getting back to the feeling of reality, though - I kind of freaked out a little when Oscar got shot? And I think that’s because I have a weird tendency to imagine gunfire bursting through the walls wherever I am, so my arms went limp when his chest actually erupts. How did the various effects in the movie hit you?
S - Well, for me it was the sudden jump cut from the rollercoaster to the car crash that actually made me turn the movie off the first time I was watching it (confession time - I actually tried to watch this movie on the last of my kidney stone painkillers just because “hey, this is the kind of movie you get high to” and I’ve never done that before - and you literally can’t watch this movie high, its too much at once. I couldn’t.). Him getting shot - that was in the trailer, so I sort of expected it, but car crashes I have a real fear of, so it was too much for me. The other part that really surprised me was just Paz de la Huerta freaking out on the curly haired kid, because I really was not expecting her to do that.
J - Oh god, the poofy-haired British kid - he was my favorite character by far. Not just because he’s totally a magnet for all the heavy-duty melodramatics -- like, the screaming match you mention, or the part with his parents where he’s screaming that his dad isn’t a real man and I’m 99% sure the guy actually just fucking belts him in the face; I can practically hear Noé’s voice coming from off screen “just hit him for real, shit” -- but because he’s such a specific and perfect character type. Like, if you ever had friends back in the day who were pretty into drugs, this kind of nervous-fragile thrill seeker runty dude - man. Screaming as the cops drag him away - MAN.
S - Yeah I knew a guy who was a lot like that, come to mention it. And that hit has to be real, I never even had a thought otherwise. And Noé really has it in for him, especially with the scene in the hotel.
The actual psychedelic sequences - do those work for you? I find that (like 2001), the effects that actually work on me as a viewer are never the ones that are supposed to simulate drugs - the cool swirling effects, they really didn’t make me react either positively or negatively, as much as thing like the blinking and flickering did.
J - Not really, no. This is taking us into the meat of the picture, so I’ll mention now that I was a little taken aback by how movie-intuitive the structuring of all the flashbacks seemed. You mentioned the roller coaster thing before, and I wish there was a lot more of that, as in a certain stimulus suddenly linking up with a matching stimulus from elsewhere in your mind, ripping you from one place to the next; he does that a few times, and that’s the kind of thing that got to me more than the colors and pulsing flora and whatnot, but mostly the movie follows a pretty typical “here’s the information you’ll need” path, so that Oscar’s psychology is rather tidy.
S - Well, aside from the car crash, which is gone back to a couple times, almost all the flashbacks that are intuitive like that are either to his mother or sister when he was a kid - so even when there are jumps like that they feel thematic. The whole movie, I think because of that movie-intuitive structure you’re talking about it feels more traditional, but in trying to explain it to someone I noticed there’s really no big set pieces that movies like this always rely on. There is no specific sequence you can point to as a part you can chop out and show to someone on YouTube.
J - But something else I found interesting wasn’t structural – it was the bobbing, whooshing POV of Oscar’s out-of-body form. I think it invites the viewer to project themselves onto the action, and not in terms of seeing things as Oscar sees them, but in ‘reading’ Oscar’s responses, in that none of the other characters can see him, so we don’t have any direct affirmation as to how he’s reacting to what he observes. For example, I really enjoyed the bit where his sister is having sex with her boss in the club, and her phone is ringing, and Oscar rushes through the wall to see that it’s Alex calling, and then he rushes back to her, and finally when she answers his vision starts to break apart while she’s crying and he’s thrown into flashbacks - that was really great, and I notice I projected all of this concern onto Oscar. By which I mean, I ‘read’ the actions of the camera as a horrible, nervous anticipation of what’s going to happen, and then his becoming really upset when the other shoe drops. And there’s some textual information to bolster that, sure, but a lot of it, I think, was me - that’s part of the effect Noé wants, I’m certain.
S - I agree with you, definitely, and that happens almost immediately, too, which I guess means that Noé is achieving the effect he wants - you are worried for Alex in that scene and reacting for him to an un-commented-on scene.
J - Okay then, here’s a big question: what did you think of Oscar? Honestly, I really grew to like him by the end of the movie, in that I realized that what we’re seeing is essentially a projection of his desires. Um, let me explain for a bit.
As soon as the movie was finished, I thought to myself: “holy shit, that was Gaspar Noé’s most humanistic movie by one trillion percent, because in taking this holistic view of life, perhaps life untethered from the prejudices of having to worry about living, you see that people are all kind of struggling, and emotional, and sad sometimes and generally trying to get by. Even ostensibly “bad” characters like the sister’s boss get these little moments, like he’s trying to stroke her face when she’s upset, and he knows she doesn’t want to have a kid with him. The whole gay drug dealer character almost seemed like an apology for the nastier characterizations in Irréversible, in that it’s this admittedly debauched guy who’s got a lot of ugly rumors swirling around him, but really he mostly awkwardly flirts with Oscar, and you kind of realize he’s got a tough road to travel. The only truly horrible character is the cop that shoots Oscar, and that’s understandable since that’s all Oscar knows of him: he’s the dude that killed him. So, it’s a rather sensitive portrayal of humanity.
S - I really like the drug dealer, I thought aside from Linda, he was the most interesting character in the movie. I’m not sure I like Oscar, because I think that you’re supposed to inhabit Oscar more than make a judgment on him. And Noé does give you the opportunity to judge him, certainly several times over, you see how easily he screws up a lot of times, but even when he’s pushing on the other dancers in the club and the sister’s boss throws him out, and yeah, the whole incest-by-proxy-angle you don’t ever think of him as a bad guy. I don’t know if you could the way the movie is laid out, but then again I never really got to like him, y’know?
J - Sure, like I said, it’s a movie you project onto, and with that comes a risk that you’ll find Oscar to be annoying or repellent. I know I’ve seen reactions from people who’ve felt he makes so many clumsy moves they find him totally insufferable to spend any time with, and while I obviously don’t think sympathetic characters are necessary for narrative art to function, I think the hazard of the audience tuning out is greater in a film like this that asks the viewer to ‘read’ the wordless motions of the camera as a character for a good amount of the impact. That’s not “asking the reader/viewer to do work” really, but relying on a more elusive function, present to some extent in any movie with characters in it, but more suffusing here. Ooh - maybe I just really want Gaspar Noé to comport to my ideas of what his films should be! Ah, but you handed me this pistol, Gaspar, and then you took the safety off...
S - As for the humanistic approach - I think you can attribute that as a part of the story too - you can look at it as every character in Oscar’s life eventually gets what he wanted for them, and except for the cops and the British kid, that’s almost universally positive. The Love Hotel is pretty convenient, and there are the requisite is-this-real-observation-or-hallucination questions for 90% of these scenes.
J - I’d say the Love Hotel sequence is the closest you’ll get to the set piece you mention above, although it’s still probably too long for YouTube. As usual for the film, it’s very, very literal in following up on narrative information we’ve been provided: it both hooks onto Oscar’s joke with his artist friend that you could peer into that kind of hotel in miniature and see all of your friends fucking, as well as Alex’s comment early on as to how the voyaging soul eventually views the possible futures it could inhabit. And, you know, alternate resolutions figured into I Stand Alone as well.
So, in the Love Hotel sequence, Oscar floats around, zipping in and out of walls, like he’s been doing for basically the whole movie, except now I think he’s glimpsing possibilities of the future. It’s hard to see -- as in the visuals are deliberately unclear, and I bet watching this fucking thing on my television didn’t exactly do me any favors -- but most of the characters in the movie show up at some point, from Linda’s female roommate to the gay drug dealer, whom Alex positions logically as not having any sex, since all of the hypothetical sex in the Love Hotel serves a specific biological function: it has to be Oscar’s rebirth. I even think the guys getting blowjobs in the elevator(?) are the cops that shoot Oscar, which is particularly funny, in that Oscar is ensuring that his murderer can’t possibly wind up as his father. Naturally, he winds up temporarily attracted to an older woman, whom I think appears at different points as the poofy-haired British kid’s mom and Oscar’s own mom -- y’know, just to make sure everyone in the back gets it -- but finally he pulls out and decides that the preferable parents are his sister and his very best friend. Since this is a climax, in the world’s most literal movie, Oscar’s tendency to dive into holes to access different areas results in his popping inside of Linda’s vagina while Alex comes in his face, which washes him along the shimmering passage to his alleged rebirth.
S - They are (the cops), and the curly haired kid is the one blowing them.
J - FUCK, I didn’t notice the British kid!!
S - The glowing genitals thing, actually that made me laugh more than the pov shot, but the more I think about it you can see each of them as possible glowing entry-points for re-access for Oscar, so the procreation aspect gets amplified a little by that.
J - Ha, it’s just like you mentioned: mission checkpoints in a video game. Or maybe a stealth reference to the famous glowing scrotums of seinen manga, but no – it’s like a game, sort of like how the pulsing bits and sweeps through walls act as load screens for new levels. And Noé says he doesn’t play a lot of games. He’s full of shit!!
Of course, maybe he’s less full of shit than just prone to authorial vandalism. When you get to Noé’s comments in interviews, he denies the apparent surface action of the plot altogether, insisting that Oscar isn’t really getting reincarnated as his sister’s and Alex’s kid: that’s his mom again in the final scene. I’ll add that anyway, as I indicated before, the baby doesn’t blink or close its eyes despite the pov mimicking the waking sequence at the top of the film, thus signaling that we’re seeing a final illusion. And then the final title is just THE VOID, which could mean “you can’t remember any of this,” like living itself as a new person is the Void as compared to the knowledgeable dead state, but knowing the director’s atheist stance it more likely signals the end of the movie, the end of artifice, and the end of life, bereft of resolution or a curtain call for the movie’s production crew - life just fucking cuts to black and sorry, that’s fucking it. The Love Hotel was just something he saw in a model city, which by the way is where his entire perspective of flying comes from. The glowing city at the end is just the DMT in his brain beginning to leak, signaling not the end of his voyage but imminent brain death.
But then - I think Noé’s a stealth humanist! I really do! Because if all of this is just a pain-fueled drug dream of a badly wounded kid, then when we see what Oscar sees, we’re seeing a construct of what he remembers his life to be and what he presumes the circumstances surrounding the end of his life to be, and finally what he wants the ultimate resolution to be, and what he wants is basically for everybody to be sort of a nice person in the end. He doesn’t want to believe in pure diabolical villainy, not totally – confronted with the end of his life, he only wants to understand everyone. Damn it, that’s a really sweet sentiment! It’s touching, man! And the film becomes a struggle between this fancy of everyone struggling to live -- this self-acknowledged artifice that is the movie, so intense that Noé had some of the aerial shots worked over so they’d look more like scale models, specifically the city model depicted as the artist friend’s project, albeit with creepy moving people all over them -- and the oblivion of knowing that the blackness is at the end, be it the conclusion of the movie or the trip, or life, or just not being able to float around and know things.
S - I think that’s why Noé spends as much time explaining DMT as he does the Book of the Dead, because the Book of the Dead is an interesting structure to base a story on, but DMT is basically the atheist take on the same ideas - and it’s part of the body that provides this to people as they die. It’s a humanist way to tell that story. And really, Irréversible is just as humanist in its nasty, awful way - it says that there is real love and real beauty in life but it's destined to be ruined, but it shows you it in reverse order. It feels like a step forward between the final card that “Time Destroys Everything” and “The Void”. The latter is definitely a better note to leave on.
In the Interview Magazine piece you sent me, Noé says “I also thought that Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days conveyed astral vision really well, and of course many films by Brian De Palma. Ever since I was really young, shots in films of astral visions above a small set, I have always loved them. There is a classic one at the end of Taxi Driver. De Niro's character shoots a guy who's on the sofa, and the camera climbs above. I always thought it would be cool to have cameras flying above characters and you never get close to them, like a ghost.”. I think it is pretty stunning to think that Enter the Void consists of only the hardest shots to pull off - the disembodied omniscient shots he’s talking about, follow shots, in-head pov, David Fincher-style believable cg landscapes, the crazy cut-into-the-plane shot from Nightwatch, the Love Hotel sequence is kind of a pervy remix of Gondry’s “Protection” video - the most remarkable filmmaking here is that he doesn’t fuck any of these things up, and any one of them could torpedo the whole thing.
J - To my mind, this is the closest the movie gets to the “experimental” stance of some of its influences: the parts toward the end where he’s just passing and passing through the city. He gradually gets higher as the movie goes on, like I think every time he’s passing he’s a little bit higher up, but right before the airplane hits him there’s this long stretch of nothing but flying, and the narrative stops.
S - That’s really not so much experimental as just the most breathtaking thing in the movie where its not done in effects and lighting so much as its just this gorgeous shot of a city - Noé knows his movie references and at least half of the things he’s referencing have those just pure filmmaking moments where, here’s a helicopter shot, that’s kind of color-corrected, but its pretty much just a helicopter shot, and he’s confident enough to just let this run for 2, 3 minutes.
J - Yeah, I don’t mean the techniques themselves are experimental; it’s just that gradually they’re allowed to become a small world of their own, enough so that the build of Oscar passing through walls becomes noticeable, and almost musical in composition, those passages. But it’s also spectacle.
And while I liked Enter the Void a good deal, it’s the kind of movie where I understand why a lot of people didn’t (and won’t) like it at all. Even setting aside the level of personal projection onto the main character it demands/risks, it’s not the kind of movie that’s heavy on traditionally ‘literary’ value, I don’t think. It’s much more interested in provoking emotional or physical reactions than feeding the intellect in theoretical construct or ‘ideas.’ The plot itself is very simple and a bit ridiculous, even laughable if approached strictly at face value, despite feeling the need to spell everything out in dialogue while hewing somewhat close to traditional narrative structures, which the point-by-point action nonetheless spread out enough that folks hungry for twists and character moments will probably get bored. Your mileage may vary regarding the acting, double so for the ultra-blunt incest theme, which is pushed hard in nearly every scene and probably too neatly backed via the minimal background information offered as to the protagonist’s psychology. God, I certainly don’t seem to have gotten very far here without cracking incest jokes myself, right?
S- I think its also being sold and reviewed as more of the kind of movie, and talked about by Noé himself as well, as the kind of movie you have to figure out as if it were literary, or fine art. Like 2001, or Videodrome or Inland Empire (which, wow, that’s another movie where you can just get lost the same way) or even legitimate “head” movies. And it isn’t that kind of movie at all. The artifice/spectacle of it is entirely technique. The “ideas” at hand are easily understood, maybe too easily. The repetition of the plot probably doesn’t help much on top of that. So I think you get as much from the film by how willing you are to let it work for you. In the Interview piece, I know Noé says that people were reacting to the film as if it were drugs, but that might be that person just not willing to let that stuff replace the narrative in the film.
J - So what did you like about the movie? Because you seem to have liked it. How did it leave you?
S - I think I loved huge parts of it, but I am a little hard pressed to point to a bunch of things in the movie I loved, because its really one giant whole rather than sequences. Yeah, the Love Hotel scene maybe didn’t work for me, and the reel 7 stuff got cut out for a reason (beyond that amazing two-second scene where Alex is writing on the wall). We’ve hit most of the parts I really loved - the credits, the rollercoaster/car crash, the long sweeping aerial shots, the tilt-shift sequence, the first time you see Linda on the dancefloor of the strip club. There are things that are kind of hard to talk about without sounding dumb, like saying that I think the colors were amazing - he was going for psychedelic Tron with the neon and I think he really surpassed it. The narrative and even the themes, they’re really secondary elements to the movie as a whole. So what really drew me in were small elements, and scenes like Linda losing it on the British kid, or Alex getting his jacket from his roommate in the alley.
What about you? Did you feel like the whole experience paid off?
J - I did, partially because I think I have a fairly high tolerance for heavy (if not necessarily complicated) melodrama as blended with a healthy amount of artifice, but also because I really appreciated the space the movie creates. The model city is a central image, because despite shooting the film on a lot of real locations, that’s what Noé and his fellow logos have assembled. I’m really digging your image of the movie as a video game; it’s very free-roaming, though the control the player is allowed isn’t in physical movement - it’s in perception and response. You’re prompted often as where to go -- it’s a story game, a mission-based game, or even a rail shooter -- but you’re also allowed a lot of drift in how you process the visions of the lead character. From this, you can draw out an impressive amount of emotional impact.
You know, as I’ve been saying a little: that’s not a unique trait to this movie. But it’s uniquely engineered to facilitate this kind of ordered voyaging, in the way that Oscar just knows which way to go to receive the next bit of narrative information - guided by the hand of the narrator, who some would call God (though not Gaspar Noé). Think of the title: Enter the Void. At Cannes, the only opening title was the word “Enter” - it escorted the audience into the experience, and deposited them in oblivion, “The Void,” at the end. The Enter is still the most prominent word, because the film isn’t about reaching the Void -- believe it, we’ll all arrive in due time -- but in making your way there. As they say about Japanese comics in comparison to American ones, it’s not so much about getting someone as going there, and what Noé attempts is to form a psychic map of the space in which you can travel, if never control. Ah, none of us control our lives anyway - never to a total extent, man.
And if some folks say it’s just a theme park ride all fancied up, well, that’s the old-timey entertainment value, the spectacle that Noé chases. Think again of Tony Scott. Think of Denzel hurtling down the track on a long, pulsing train, irreversibly toward a deep, dark tunnel. He’s related to that tunnel.