Review: Enter the Void (2010)

Directed by: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy

The idea of life after death is probably one of the most pondered over subjects in the history of mankind. Through various religious and social sects, we’ve been offered countless views on the matter and have subsequently been convinced that maybe the concept as a whole isn’t as far-fetched as we’d initially thought. Its reach has since then expanded throughout the world of pop culture, influencing individuals from all sides of the spectrum and, more importantly, resulting in the production of many a film that’s taken the liberty to explore the possibility of an afterlife from an artistic and sometimes personal standpoint. Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void is a prime example, implementing relatively straightforward beliefs in a staggeringly grandiose fashion to craft a sprawling epic that’s a wonder to behold and years ahead of its time.

Filmed from an entirely first-person perspective, Enter the Void follows young Oscar as his recently acquired occupation as a drug dealer living in Tokyo gets him shot and killed inside a cramped bathroom at a seedy local nightclub. Leaving behind the sister he swore would never be left alone again following their initial separation, Oscar must watch helplessly through the eyes of his own disembodied spirit as the lives of those around him begin to crumble in the wake of his death. What ensues is essentially a fractured yet oddly cohesive and heavy-hearted retelling of the events that have led up to the present, including just when and why Oscar decided to pursue his current career choice and the importance of his reuniting with his sister following a tragic childhood.

From the get-go, the first-person POV almost becomes too much to bear on account of how rarely its been used prior to this point and how effectively its been implemented, not once coming off as gimmicky or excessive following a nearly 5-minute long hallucination Oscar endures early on prior to his premature demise. The sequence in question serves as a worthy precursor to the events that follow, insisting that Noé’s vision is as much a no holds barred visceral acid trip as it is an unconventionally brilliant method of storytelling. Needless to say, the film’s overall presentation is mesmerizing, utilizing a slew of colors and ominous, earth-rattling tones to coincide with its thumping Tokyo setting and the very nature of Oscar’s startling predicament.

Believe it or not, there’s also a story to be told here, and while not the most complex, it remains engaging by way of rapid shifts in focus that are rendered appropriate as Oscar retraces the moments leading up to his death and wallows in an indeterminable amount of guilt regarding his sister. Exploring the infinite possibilities of the afterlife itself, Oscar proceeds to bounce back and forth between time periods to give us a glimpse at the unbreakable bond he and his sister had always maintained, that is until an unspeakable tragedy drove them apart and forever changed their lives. Noé’s proclivity toward exhibiting the absolute bleakest aspects of the human condition assures that both these childhood memories and those of more recent events are as distressing as can be, yet his intentions are to clearly chronicle the disintegration of several individuals’ lives through the eyes of the one that inadvertently set it in motion. As to be expected, the amount of graphic sexuality present among other elements is enough to make your stomach turn, however it’s hard to deny the authenticity of these instances in relation to the conflict at hand.

Thanks to the film’s unrivaled technical brilliance, hard-hitting narrative and ability to explore nearly all aspects of the afterlife, the efforts of the cast may very well be overlooked as things chug glumly along. Taking some of their obvious inexperience into consideration, and given the aforementioned grandiosity of the production as a whole, it’s safe to say that they had their work cut out for them. Nathaniel Brown as Oscar adapts gracefully to the grim circumstances that plague his very existence, interacting in a noticeably repressed and believable manner with those closest to him. The role of Linda, Oscar’s sister, is handled wonderfully by Paz de la Huerta as her wayward lifestyle as a stripper leads to chronic drug use and, above all, sexual promiscuity. As demanding as the role clearly becomes, de la Huerta handles each and every scene with great fervor and a tinge of capriciousness that make the character all the more interesting, and even the two child actors that portray the brother and sister in their troubled youth are exceptional, especially when paired with the seriousness of their onscreen counterparts’ plight.

Enter the Void is what you’d call modern filmmaking at its finest. Gaspar Noé’s visceral exploration of the afterlife is both exceedingly gorgeous in the most literal sense and miles beyond conforming to more conventional narrative structuring. The story itself is exceptionally poignant regardless of its simplicity, and the manner in which its presented is both warranted and unlike anything else you’ve seen in recent memory. With top-notch performances from a mostly amateur cast, Enter the Void establishes itself as an appealingly disconsolate, sprawling masterpiece that either will or won’t tickle your fancy given an overpowering predilection for graphic sexuality and a bloated run time, both of which weren’t entirely in my favor. As for the idea of life after death though, it’s safe to say even Noé himself may still be uncertain, yet his take on the issue is so beautiful in the most unorthodox sense that one may tend to rethink their stance on the matter themselves.

Rating: 8/10

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