France. Directed by Gaspar Noé, 2009. Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy. 143 minutes.
I think someone once said that his definition of a good television series was a show where you wanted to hang out with the characters every week. I don’t remember who said this, and I don’t remember the exact wording, but I’m pretty sure it was something along those lines. I don’t agree with that, from a personal standpoint. But I can extrapolate that definition to come up with one of my own personal rules, what Adam Cadre would call a “pattern of evaluation”: if I hate the symbolic process of hanging out with a group of characters, I’m going to hate the narrative, no matter what else it has in its favor.
Gaspar Noé’s 2009 effort Enter the Void has many wonderful elements, but none of them make up for it being an overlong, self-indulgent slog. The focal point of the film is Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), an American expatriate living in Tokyo, where he takes drugs, deals drugs, and lives with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), a stripper with whom he has a suspiciously Freudian relationship. Oscar’s best friend rats him out to the cops and he dies in a confrontation so stupid it would have earned him a Darwin award were he not a fictional character. After that, his disembodied soul floats around, first seeing the immediate repercussions of his death, then reflecting on the events of his life. His parents died in an automobile when he was a child and he and his sister went to separate foster homes, and later in life. Then he went to Tokyo, started doing shitty things to pay to bring Linda to Tokyo, did other shitty things for his own gratification, lived in a state of more-or-less constant denial, and then died. Then he returns to the present and the long-term repercussions of his death. And this goes on for nearly two and a half fucking hours.
Hopefully the impression I’ve given you is that Oscar is a terrible person. I expect the whole “parents died in front of him” thing is meant to explain why he is the way he is and why he has such a creepy relationship with Linda, but emotionally that explanation is an equation that doesn’t add up. Basically, he’s an asshole living in a permanent state of denial, an endless cycle of buying, taking, and selling drugs. Whatever time is left to him, he spends lusting after his own goddamn sister. And everyone around him is just as bad.
The terrible performances only compounded the problem. Brown delivers each line in the same mumbly, dull monotone, and fails utterly to convince, a real shame considering he improvised most of his dialog. De la Huerta (a performer who readily admits she’s not an actress) conveys lust and histrionics very well, but is completely lost when Noé requires anything more of her. Cyril Roy and Olly Alexander (as Oscar’s friends) and Sara Stockbridge (as Oscar’s older, married lover) fare better, but their characters are such cyphers that I kept mixing up Roy and Alexander’s character’s names, and kept forgetting Stockbridge’s even existed.
Enter the Void has a number of positives in its favor. It’s often a breathtakingly beautiful film with one of the most amazing soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and not just because it features Delia Derbyshire’s sublime interpretation of Bach’s “Air on the G String.” It’s bold, unique, singular, visionary. Its director and co-writer, Gaspar Noé, doesn’t so much (to quote my review of Melancholia) challenge the audience as double-dog-dare it to keep watching. Between Void and descriptions I’ve heard of Irreversible without actually having seen it, it seems the guy doesn’t believe that art is by necessity a pleasant experience. Good for him. I respect that.
Unfortunately the bulk of the experience he offers in Enter the Void offers is too much time spent with awful people doing stupid things, and all the pretty pictures and interesting sounds in the world can’t give me my hundred and forty minutes back.