All Hope Abandon
The good news is that, though there were several walkouts, the theatrical release of Enter the Void is “trimmed to 136 minutes” from the 160 director-in-attendance presentation at the Lincoln Center "Film Comment Summer Meltdown" program.
Among “the most anticipated cinematic events of the year, [this] spiritual voyage” is a non-linear visual and aural assault, a paean-to-neon vision of an uncrowded mock Tokyo peopled by lost Caucasian druggies. Director/coeditor/cameraman Gaspar Noé took a decade-and-a-half on the script, inching each time closer towards the psychedelic abstract and away from the original Andes setting first to his native France and then on to New York before settling on the flashing Rising Sun capital.
A recent criticism of neon tennis outfits remarks on “youth marketing gone amok,” and such is the plan here in Day-Glo color, unarousing nudity and sex acts, hallucinogenic trips among kaleidoscopic dendriforms and snowflakes, and a pharmacopoeia of drug acronyms. Pompous with pregnant implications, mean in story, and exhausting rather than exhilarating in technique, the interior and afterlife journey is not a patch on Fantastic Voyage, Yellow Submarine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Performance, Altered States, Tron, Strange Days and a long et cetera.
In place of inter-scene cuts, fades, dissolves, wipes, iris-in/-outs or what have you, there are excessively long takes and tiring infinite flying zooms-in/-out/-up/-down/-around through or over walls and above streets, buildings and the occasional low cloud, to the next location. Such superhero lenswork is acceptable novelty the first couple of times but soon deteriorates into annoyance. Self-conscious fisheye within small rooms, the camera circles its prey before entering every inanimate circular object or bodily orifice.
Most is from the literal vantage point of late adolescent Oscar (Nathaniel Brown, a first-timer plucked from selling tee-shirts in Brooklyn) or his years-ago Little Oscar (Jesse Kuhn), scenes seen from in back of his head with jug ears. The improvised dialogue is not essential and so often mumbled, since, not a bad person in Noé’s scheme of things, he has begun pushing and taking drugs bought from nasty Bruno (Ed Spear) after an introduction by friend and sweet-guy head Alex (French first-timer Cyril Roy).
The illicit money secures a new apartment and a plane ticket to Tokyo for younger sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), raised in a different foster home from him after the traumatic car-crash death of their parents, shown repeatedly, and deaths of the grandparents. Blood brother-and-sister vowed never to be separated, the girl now lounges in various states of undress before her brother, or with her stuffed doggie in the frequent childhood inserts (Emily Alyn Lind).
The director ingenuously denies incest, but his film drops so many broad insinuations that, then and now, this relationship goes beyond “normal” sibling closeness. Seduced by -- not seducing -- the mother of client Victor (Olly Alexander), Oscar is set up in revenge and, fifteen minutes in, shot dead by policemen in the grimy bathroom of the Bar Void. Having dabbled in hippie bible The Tibetan Book of the Dead, however, his consciousness or spirit hovers around to protect the sister he wills not to leave.
She does need help. Turned on to drugs by him, she falls for Tokyo, its Love Hotel (a gratuitously long sequence details its varieties of pleasure), and for Mario (Masato Tanno), owner of the Sex Money Power club where she fancies pole-dancing.
Oscar sounds like “Gaspar, the person with whom I identify most easily,” and, killed early on, he yet lingers, ostensibly as guardian angel but importantly as a filler-in of flashback backstory. Though he loses everything to disappear in an unforeseen stupid moment, there would be no movie were he simply to “fall into the void” that is death.
A late-flowering Huxley-Leary-Castaneda pipe dream, Enter the Void is neither meaningful, revelatory nor joyful. In place of the mystic crystal mind’s true liberation, it compounds deadening visuals and noise that overwhelm a possibly promising concept.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)