Saturday, October 23, 2010

Death Is A Hell Of A Drug

So by some minor miracle, the new Gaspar Noe film Enter the Void made its way to sleepy San Diego yesterday and I went to see it with some loved ones.  I've never had the opportunity to see any of his films on the big screen before, so I was excited but also nervous as both Irreversible and I Stand Alone had a strong effect on me for long after I watched them.  In fact, while I've gone well out of my way to see every disturbing film I possibly can, the great grandpapa of them all to my mind is Irreversible - I consider it one of the most affecting things I've ever seen but have only seen it once and would probably only see it again in a theater.

The movie's synopsis on IMDB is pretty much a spoiler in itself, but I feel it only fair to warn you of a couple of things:I will mention some details that might be considered spoilerish, and that there isn't really much that you could know about this film before seeing it that would change the viewing experience that much.  A pretty young American dude (Oscar) has moved to Japan, and lives in a small apartment in Tokyo with his sister.  He is a smaller level drug dealer, and definitely gets high on his own supply.
The movie is all from Oscar's perspective.  He mumbles to himself, sits on his couch, fires up a pipe (with what we later learn is DMT) and trips fucking balls within the first 10 minutes of the movie, and it is easily the most hallucinatory thing I've ever seen on a movie screen.  It's profoundly beautiful and also disturbing.  I've managed not to have ever taken DMT, so I don't know how accurate a depiction it is, but it definitely made me feel not normal in a big way.  As he's bugging out, he gets a call from someone who asks him to deliver some dope to him at a bar called The Void. So he goes to the bathroom to wash up and try to compose himself when his buddy Alex shows up at this door.  Alex is a scraggly and bearded, good natured, druggy type who has loaned Oscar a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  Alex notes how fucked up Oscar is, chides him gently for being more of a drug dealer now than he used to be, and accompanies Oscar to his rendezvous.  Turns out the person who arranged the transaction has ratted Oscar out (for reasons more clear later in the film) and the cops rush in.  Oscar runs into the bathroom to flush his stash, yelling "Don't come in, I've got a gun and I'll shoot!" at the police...which ends up being a pretty bad idea.
Oscar's spirit leaves his body and we then spend the next two hours or so floating through buildings, observing people, returning to old memories and reliving the events leading up to his death.  Now my brother says that the sound mix at the Ken Theater in SD was awful and practically ruined the movie.  He might be right, but Gaspar Noe is nothing if not shy about aurally assaulting his audience.  I myself thought it brilliant that during their walk to the Void, Alex offers his opinions on what the Book of the Dead is all about and you can barely hear what he's saying - for I figured Oscar is pretty fucking high and we're right there with him.  I found the movie on a whole to be a truly intense experience that defied logic much of the time, but when I sat back and let myself be mesmerized by the strobing lights and repetitive sounds it was thoroughly engaging.
Oscar and his sister Linda lost both of their parents at a pretty young age (the depiction of which shows up about 4 times and made me jump out of my seat at least twice) and have only been able to count on one another as being constants in their lives.  Actually, that's even been impossible as they've been separated to live in different foster homes - Oscar procures money from a friend's mother and begins his drug selling efforts to afford Linda's ticket to come and live with him.  There are flashbacks in which they pledge to never leave one another no matter what, so it's clear they are all the family either one of them has.  It was strange to me, then, that on her first night in town Oscar gives Linda an ecstasy pill and takes her to a club where she ends up meeting the owner of a strip bar who employs her and kindles a relationship with her.  Postmortem Oscar also spends a whole lot of time watching his sister strip and have sex, even seeming to inhabit the body of the man on top of her so as to get an extreme close up of her face while she's screwing.  Kind of creepy, as are other things each of them do - there's clearly a weird sort of closeness between them that, while it's never outright freaky or disturbing, seems kind of off. 
By the time Enter the Void was over, I had been ready for it to be over for at least 20 or 30 minutes.  It is visually extraordinary, and I have no idea how most of the shots were achieved.  It was beautiful and frightening, harrowing and thrilling.  Sometimes all at once, even.  I couldn't tell you what really happened at the end because I have no idea what was real, or hallucinated, or implied versus accurately depicted.  I was spent and confused by the end...but I wasn't bored.  Much like Irreversible, I can't honestly say that I recommend this to anyone only because I can't say whether or not the forceful and visually stunning aspects of this movie will be too unpleasant.  And of course I can't say whether or not death will be anything like what this film depicts at all, and hopefully I won't find out for a hell of a long time.  However, what Noe has done here is remarkable in my opinion - using images and sounds in such a way that one is lead to believe that they (at least in a small way) now know what death might be like. Pretty crazy.

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