Film Review: “Enter the Void”

 

Just a note to preface this:  I wrote most of this review the day after seeing the film, but just didn’t get around to editing and cleaning up the post until now.  So while I refer to “yesterday” and “this week” a couple of times, it’s actually been a couple of weeks now since I went to see this.  Sorry if it’s confusing at all; I really did mean to post this up sooner.

—-

I heard a lot about Enter the Void last year after it made a bit of a splash at Cannes, and then again at the Toronto International Film Festival.  “Trippy”, “brutal”, “honest”, “terrifying”, “drug-addled”, “Kubrickian”, and “brilliant” were all terms I heard used to describe it, and I’d say that they’re all pretty accurate.  So when I heard that TIFF was going to be screening the film again this week, I had to grab a couple of tickets and abduct Kenneth for the evening.  And I’m thoroughly glad that I did, as it was a very good film and we had a great time seeing it.

I’m going to blatantly suggest that you show up to this film in a slightly altered state, as the first 20 minutes or so are extremely trippy and somewhat unintelligible.  I’m sure that it’s still fun sober, but being slightly buzzed (as I was) made it easy to just stare at the pretty stuff and not question exactly where this trip is headed.  At about 10-15 minutes in I noticed some mumbling from other people in the theatre about the scene being “too long”, but it didn’t seem that way to me, which could be because I’ve got a longer attention span than those other people, or it could have been a symptom of my non-sobriety.  I’ll have to watch the film while sober, at some point, just to test the theory.

Once that first 20 minutes is over, though, you get thrown headlong into the major plot.  Shots are fired, somebody dies, and you’re headed into two hours of emotions and politics and human interactions in a world that’s far from perfect, but still has its moments of sweetness.

Every character in this movie is extremely flawed, but it’s in ways that seem realistic and even strangely familiar.  Perhaps it’s just a symptom of knowing too many people from Port Elgin and Owen Sound (to those not familiar with the part of the world where I grew up: think mostly white people, a very strong rich/poor divide, little education and a lot of high school drop-outs, and a high concentration of drug/alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy), but most of these characters remind me strongly of people from my own life, and I find their reactions to the events that are happening around them to be both realistic and sympathetic.  The relationship between the main character and his sister borders disturbingly on the incestuous, but somehow makes more and more sense as the events of their traumatic childhood are replayed throughout the film.  The excessive drug use/abuse by many of the main characters seems perfectly natural, given their environment.  Even the graphic — and sometimes almost pornographic — sex scenes seem somehow honest and completely non-gratuitous.  Yes, I’m claiming that something porny can be non-gratuitous.  See the film and then argue with me, if you like, but I contend that it was all completely in-character and stylistically appropriate.

Of course, anyone who’s at all familiar with indie films would only expect some seriously graphic scenes from anything by Gaspar Noe — this is the same man who gained international notoriety for the 10-minute long rape scene in Irreversible, his previous film (also worth a watch, but only if you’re ready for some SERIOUS trigger moments.  I ended up having to turn the film off in tears at one point, even having been prepared for what I was going to see).  Enter the Void is less trigger-happy, but still has a lot of potentially disturbing stuff going on.  Besides the sex scenes (and there are many), there’s also a very graphic car crash, several violent deaths, and an abortion scene (the abortion is a little corny, just because the CGI is so very bad).  There were a few moments where I felt as though it was bordering on “too much”, but mostly it did seem as though things progressed logically and were character-appropriate.  “Too much” is probably just a matter of personal taste, in this regard.

From a technical perspective, there is some truly brilliant work being done here.  There are almost no proper “cuts” in the entire two and a half hours of film, and that’s a serious accomplishment.  Every scene runs together, blending seemlessly from realistic, POV shots, into trippy CGI, to aerial views of the city, to dreamlike “memory” sequences, and back again.  Even the “cuts” that do happen aren’t abrupt: a fade to black, followed by a fade up on a different scene, flows beautifully into the rest of the film.  It’s easy to get lost in the beautiful camera work (every shot is very carefully staged), and forget just how much time is passing.  It wasn’t until 2 hours in that I started to realize that my butt was numb and we were out of rum and how long have I been sitting here, anyways?  Had I been comfortably at home, instead of in a slightly cramped and too-warm theatre, I would probably never have noticed the time at all until the entire thing was over.  Kenneth described the experience of seeing the film as “Requiem for a Dream on acid”, and I think it’s a pretty accurate description (although, having never done acid, I might be making some wrong assumptions about the effects it has).

One thing that actually surprised me about this film is how much plot it has.  While the overall story is quite simple, the amount of detail that gets fleshed out through the course of the film is quite impressive.  You walk away knowing all sorts of very intimate details of these characters’ lives, and feeling as though you know how the story will continue.  Having seen many indie films that focus solely on technical gimmicks and visual brilliance, it was refreshing to see such carefully crafted characters and story shining through in-between all of the purely visual fluff.

There were also a lot of thought-provoking moments:  places where you could see the decisions made by the characters, and consider the alternatives, and wonder what would have happened if they’d acted differently, and what you might have

Standard dramatic action, as described by Gustav Freytag

done in the same situation.  The very stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling

invites

that kind of introspection, which is something usually not seen in mainstream Freytag-pyramid-friendly media (see diagram at right).

 

Overall, I’d have to say that Enter the Void is definitely a film worth seeing.  It’s graphic and it’s disturbing, but in the end it’s strangely heartwarming and hopeful.  And it’s an experience, which is something that most films cannot claim.  Perhaps it’s not worth paying to see in a theatre (and definitely don’t bother with the theatre experience if you’re someone likely to be disturbed by the graphic scenes, as you might need to walk out at some point), but worth viewing at home at the very least.  If you’re interested in seeing something that’s very different from the usual fare, this film has some truly unique things to offer, and that makes it a great success in my books.  Once I’ve had a bit of time to recover from my initial viewing experience, I’ll definitely be watching it again, because I’m sure there’s a lot more to be discovered between the lines of what I’ve already seen.

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