When “The King’s Speech” was getting the primo-hype treatment during Oscar season, there was a tagline that often appeared in PR material: “Some movies you see. Others you feel.” Well, with all due respect to that Best Picture winner, there was another film from last year — one far outside the Oscar-friendly realm, to say the least — that redefined what it means to “feel” a movie: “Enter the Void,” the third film from notorious French filmmaker Gaspar Noe.
In just over a year since its release, “Enter the Void” has already become an avant-garde classic, something between a litmus test and an endurance test for viewers. It has inspired walk-outs, headaches, incredibly polarized reactions and even surprising instances of mainstream recognition. (Kanye West’s music video for “All of the Lights” is a blatant homage to “Void,” especially the film’s famous opening credits sequence.) And now, on its advancement through the underworld of cinema, the uncut version of “Enter the Void” will be playing at Rochester’s own Dryden Theater on Saturday, April 2.
Noe has always been an artist of extremes. His last film, 2002’s “Irreversible,” instantly earned a reputation for being all but unwatchable. It featured — amongst other difficulties — a 10-minute rape scene and a sickening low-frequency rumble that was subtly dubbed throughout certain scenes. Needless to say, Noe doesn’t have a penchant for feel-good filmmaking. But he also refuses to make films that can be watched passively. Even if you absolutely detest his works — and many do — they’re all one-of-a-kind visceral experiences. Some movies you see. Noe’s, for better or worse, you will always feel.
This is the film that elevates him from a shock-tastic experimenter to a true auteur. Many of his favorite extreme motifs — dizzying camerawork, mind-boggling long takes, graphic violence, deranged sexual content and a disorienting atmosphere — are at full work in this three-hour “psychedelic melodrama,” as Noe called it. This time, though, they all come together into a seamless, surreal, deservedly self-indulgent masterwork.
The film, quite literally, follows Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young American living as a bottom-rung drug dealer in Tokyo. The first 40 minutes are shot from a first-person perspective — we are actually seeing through Oscar’s eyes (the screen even goes black throughout the entire sequence every time he blinks). It’s a stunning technique, but we still see what a pathetic existence Oscar has: We see his meager, cluttered apartment and his reliance on drugs for an escape (a lengthy detour, which presents Oscar’s scary visions after smoking DMT, is a good sign of what’s to come later).
The only people who care about him are Linda (Paz de la Huerta), his once-estranged sister who now makes ends meet as a stripper, and Alex (Cyril Roy), his friend who turned him onto drug dealing but still calmly offers safety and lifestyle advice. But the most pathetic thing about Oscar’s life is that we’re seeing the very end of it — he spends his final moments smoking up, mumbling through conversations and lazing over to a club to make a drug deal. The deal turns out to be a police raid, which leaves Oscar, through his own lapsed judgment, dead on a bathroom floor.
Over the next two hours, we’ll continue to follow Oscar in quite a different manner. We follow his spirit as it revisits traumatic memories, celestially watches the events that follow his death, silently scours the neon-drenched streets of Tokyo and delves into various portals and epileptic astro-visions. This isn’t some sentimental vision of the afterlife — it’s something between purgatory and all-out hell.
“Enter the Void” starts early with its strobe lights, delirious camerawork and undercurrent of dark ambience. Some will quickly tire of these effects, or just feel nauseous. Others will slowly be hypnotized into the film’s grasp. If that happens, watching “Enter the Void” is like being inside of it; the film truly feels like a nightmarish, out-of-body experience or a never-ending bad drug trip. Clearly, this doesn’t make for a pleasurable night at the movies. But few films have ever been so effectively transformative — this is one of the most immersive film experiences ever made.
Due to a contractual obligation with the film’s investors, “Enter the Void” had to be cut down to 140 minutes for American distribution. To accommodate this, Noe simply removed an entire reel of footage. The 161-minute version of the film will be presented this weekend at the Dryden Theater — one of the few times so far that the complete cut has been screened in an American theater. If you’re attending the film, prepare for an experience that’s haunting, over-stimulating and wholly unique. There’s a reason why the film’s title makes it sound like an otherworldly challenge.
Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.