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Enter The Void: A Review

November 10, 2010

A friend recently invited me to screen this film with a tantalizing  invitation:

“Hey! Do you want to see Enter the Void with me and have your head taken clean off?”

Obviously,  I couldn’t refuse.  Much ado has been made of Gaspar Noé’s newest film since it has been hitting the film festival circuit and even though I saw Irréversible and was mildy, visually traumatized by that experience, I was curious and wanted to check it out.  I had already heard wildly mixed reviews – the words ‘visionary’ and ‘epileptic seisure’ were intermittently bandied about by theater-goers and my film-watching companion uttered the scariest thing to me right before the movie began.  He said:

“I know one person who has seen this film….”

“Oh yeah?  What did he think of it?”

“It made him void his bowels.”

You can imagine, as the bright, colorful intro credits flashed and pulsated before my eyes, that I had some apprehension and second thoughts.  After all, we are talking about a movie so visually complex and over-stimulating that the watching of it made a man VOID HIS BOWELS*.  Mentally braced for the possibility that I might barf, pass-out or have a seizure during the film, I reclined in my seat and waited for a mind-expanding (and potentially shaming) experience.   I was so surprised by what followed.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit this…but I was bored.

An experimental film which explores themes of sexuality, family bonds, drug use and re-incarnation – Enter the Void certainly feels like a movie that I should like.  It features some striking visual images and Noé has – without question – a skilled, artistic eye.  I felt similarly when I watched Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle (a lushly produced series of conceptual films which I felt I should like, but didn’t – but which do contain some of the most beautiful and intriguing images I have ever seen…I just prefer them as still shots), like the experience of watching it should leave me scooping the pieces of my melted brain up off of the floor, not daydreaming about what I wanted to eat for dinner.

In a nutshell, Enter the Void is about two siblings who lose their parents in a grisly, traumatizing car crash.  After vowing to never leave one another, they are swiftly separated and raised in different foster homes.  The brother and sister reunite as young adults in Tokyo, where Oscar is earning his living as a drug dealer and Linda (Paz De La Heurta) is working as a stripper.  Shot from the perspective of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown – or rather, the back of Nathaniel Brown’s head, as that is nearly all we see of him) both while he is alive and after his death – during which he floats over Tokyo and watches over his sister as well as other acquaintances – we see pieces of the story come together in small vignettes and flashbacks.

Oscar’s after-death experiences seem influenced by his drug use as much as his reading of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, with his somewhat unhealthy (possibly incestuous) attachment to his sister being the tether that binds him to the living.  There is so much potential in this aspect of the story, but unfortunately it also highlights the film’s greatest weakness – the writing – specifically in regards to character development.   It’s not that you necessarily NEED to care about the people in this film – though I would argue that generally it helps if you do – but I dislike the director’s means of generating sympathy for them.  Using extreme, graphic imagery is nothing new for Noé – the death of the childrens’ parents is so awful and gruesome, but it seems to be the only defining experience for the siblings.  As adults, Linda and Oscar seem devoid of any personality traits – other than sharing an off-putting, sexual interest in one another - they talk about the car accident which changed their lives, but not of other things that might have contributed in forming the attractive, vacuous people that they have grown up to be.

Oscar’s desire to be close to his sister, even after death, is the fundamental element driving the story.  Had Oscar and Linda been more interesting people, this kind of sentimental touch could have worked well as the concept of re-incarnation was explored, but I was left feeling completely detatched.  There were moments in the film which felt transportive simply by the strength of the images alone, but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention throughout.

*It turns out, my friend made that story up to psyche me out – though his friend did say that the film took the top of his head clean off. Such was not the case with me.


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