Chasing a friend throughout the Quad as he attempts to throw himself out the window in the midst of a bad acid trip is never fun. But Gaspar Noé‘s Enter the Void puts any bad trips my friends had at Penn to deep, deep shame. The movie opens up with the death of its main character while he’s high on DMT. As he’s bleeding out, thinking that he’s merely hallucinating, one cannot help but cringe at how utterly awful it must be to get shot while you’re high out of your mind, unable to protect yourself in any meaningful way.
But once one moves past the initial unfortunate sequence of events, a 3 hours long visual and mental journey awaits, as the shock of death quickly fades beneath the shock of extremely explicit scenes of sex. Now, for those unaccustomed to Noé‘s pleasure in forming enemies (i.e. critics that will whole-heartedly hate on every single one of his works), the movie might seem inexcusably outrageous and tedious. I mean, why would a director ever want to make a 3-hour long film, of which half is spent solely on depicting epilepsy-triggering lights, while the other half centers around themes like drug abuse, childhood trauma, incest, and abortion? Gaspar Noé loves to shock and appall, and he’s never shied away from gruesome topics in his movies, even at the cost of constructing a deeper, more complex storyline or building a larger fanbase. But keeping in mind that what brought him international renown in the first place was precisely the extreme narratives, his strategy might not be that inopportune after all. Nonetheless, it’s a given that a first-time viewer of Noé will be scandalized to the point of disgust and fascination. It’s always both, and honestly, that’s his charm.
If you strip the movie down to its core, you’ll find an emotional story of life-long trauma. Oscar and Linda are two siblings whose parents die in a car crash in front of their eyes at a very young age. After their grandparents pass away as well, the siblings are separated in different adoptive families, in spite of their vow to always remain together. They eventually reunite as young adults in Tokyo, where Oscar works as a dealer addicted to his own supply, and Linda is a stripper in a shady night-club. After Oscar’s death, the film focuses on Linda’s grieving process, depicted through a recurring interplay of scenes from the present with ones from their childhood, in order to create the impression of a life-long symbiotic connection between the two. Personally, the incestuous nature of the sibling’s relationship stood out the most. From a psychological standpoint, it makes sense that in a case of extreme loss (like losing both parents at a young age), one might develop an increased attachment to their sibling as a means of substituting the loss. Then, growing into a phase of young adulthood where one discovers their sexuality, this sort of attachment can easily become confused with a romantic bond.
While this plotline isn’t pursued to the fullest extent, the Noé never intended to create a fully-realized story. Instead, he wanted to create a visual masterpiece - and while I’d personally refrain from using the word masterpiece - it definitely has a spellbinding visual effect. The truly, truly unique thing about Enter the Void is its stunning visuals. The red-green contrast incorporated within the pink and yellow neon-like chromatic creates an entrancing, trippy and erotic atmosphere that makes the film unequivocally cool. Unfortunately, after the first hour, the visuals are so intense to the point of fatiguing, and what was supposed to be an engrossing visual experience might turn for some into a severe headache, as the camera aggressively spins in all directions over and over again.
To be honest, I haven’t made up my mind yet on whether it’s worse to watch Enter the Void sober or not, but either way, it really is a journey - one that’s actually worth hopping on, for the sake of ending up loving Noé to death or despising him to his core. There’s no in-between.