REVIEW: Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void Penetrates -- Just Not Deeply Enough

Movieline Score: 8


Voyeurism, thinly veiled incestuous impulses, flashbacks of painful memories: The driftiness of Spirit Oscar's afterlife-life enfolds them all, and Noé and cinematographer Benoît Debie come up with filmic ways of suggesting them that are often breathtaking and sometimes merely clever. In the picture's opening scene, shown from the point of view of Living Oscar, we can hear him talking to Linda, or muttering under his breath after she leaves the flat. ("I know who I am. I know I'm not a junkie. I know who I am.") Every few seconds, the screen goes blurrily dark for just an instant, as if dictated by the opening and closing of a lazy shutter -- that, it turns out, is Oscar blinking. (It's similar to the effect Julian Schnabel used to re-create the eyelid-flutter of the paralyzed Jean-Do in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.) When Noé gets into the head of a character, he goes all out.

Ostensibly, Spirit Oscar has no eyelids, so while the blinking effect is fun while it lasts, it's not something we have to put up with for the whole movie. Elsewhere, Noé describes, visually, the warm bliss Living Oscar feels when he starts drawing on that pipe, turning the screen into a shape-shifting montage of rubbery tree branches and jelly-fish tentacles rendered in startling purples, reds and coal-oranges. Through the eyes of Noé's camera, Spirit Oscar gazes down upon Oscar's corpse as it lies on the coroner's table, a single bullet hole marring its creamy skin. (We follow the camera right into that bullet hole, where it dissolves into the round opening of a jungle-gym-type children's playground sculpture, thus triggering a childhood flashback.) And Noé visits, and revisits, that terrible car crash in savage detail, each time revealing it from a slightly different angle (though he always includes the detail of the screaming, suffering child, Linda, in the back seat; Oscar, stunned and perhaps also instinctively protective of his sister, remains silent).

The first time we see that crash, and maybe even the second, it hits with the same heart attack-inducing impact of the ax-through-the-windshield moment in Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl. In other words, it's effective as hell. But Noé's fixation on the whimpering child is problematic: The idea is that our most lacerating memories are the ones we return to again and again -- maybe they're the ones that give the most shape to our lives. But by the fourth or fifth time we see the crash -- and hear the suffering child -- the point is long past being made. Noé has some interesting and valid ideas here, but he doesn't know when to stop stubbing his figurative cigarette in the wound.

This is a movie that's less about its characters -- or its actors -- than it is about its free-floating ideas. Even so, de la Huerta is sometimes very touching here; with her full-lipped pout and pencil-dot eyes, she's like a cartoon image of a lost girl, wandering and vulnerable. She is often, I might add, quite naked, and while Spirit Oscar tries to maintain some semblance of decorum as he gazes upon her, his Spirit Mind keeps drifting back to wispy infant memories of suckling at his mother's breast. And at a certain point, Enter the Void becomes a goofy, pseudo-subliminal quest: How to get back to the almighty nipple?

Noé's answer is revealed in the movie's silly, long-winded climax, set in a gloriously sleazy neon-hued "Love Hotel." Rays of luminous energy stream from women's vaginas as they're being penetrated by the menfolk's mighty light sabers. Ah, the miracle of creation! (This, by the way, is where the aforementioned Penisvision and other delights come in.)

You have to hand it to Noé: He's not above poking fun -- and poking is the right word here -- at his own grand vision of life, the afterlife, and reincarnation. In the end, Enter the Void doesn't penetrate all that deeply into the void; this is more a visual experiment than a spiritual one. But Noé does appear to be having a fine old time turning his camera into one all-seeing, all-knowing eye. What awaits us after death? Will we find ourselves roaming the atmosphere, attempting to cap off all of that unfinished business? Noé offers no easy answers, nor, for that matter, complex ones. But what he's able to show us is sometimes astonishing, sometimes confounding and sometimes just deeply, deeply ridiculous. He follows his muse wherever she leads, keeping sight of her at all times within the tiny window of the viewfinder.

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