Short Reviews: Enter the Void (2009)


Oscar is a small-time drug dealer. He gets exceptionally high one night, then leaves to meet a friend at a bar and is set upon by the police. Hiding from them in a bathroom, he threatens them with an imaginary gun – they respond by shooting him with a real one. As he dies, he has an out of body experience, following the lives of his friends and family closely (particularly his sister Lynda) back and forwards in time, all while a shimmering neon Tokyo pulsates on the streets below.

Told at first through first-person perspective (including blinks!) and then from a hovering overhead angle, Enter the Void is barely coherent. There’s not so much a story as there are moments that happen, and the acting is questionable to say the least.

But the film is still impressive; it’s an achievement in style and editing if nothing else, and you can tell that for the most part, this is actually a carefully planned out film from Noe, and that he’s not just assembling disconnected scenes.

So how does one read the film? Is it the dying moments of a lonely soul? A transcendental moment of life and death before reincarnation? A bad trip on DMT and entirely imagined? A dancing bear?

I kind of think all of the above. It’s clearly the work of someone with a vision, but it’s also possible that vision could have been shortened by at least half an hour. Regardless, the film is very open to interpretation and so there’s also room to appreciate it differently.

Case in point, I’m not a drug-user, but I imagine that those in an altered state of consciousness would better appreciate the film, as it seems to be speaking to that state of mind more than us sober squares. As a film in its own right, it’s at times moving and tedious, poignant and puerile (despite the themes of life, death and reincarnation, showing the moment of conception by filming an ejaculating penis from within the vagina seems more of a childish gimmick than anything else).

I enjoyed it quite a lot despite its tedium, but I understand why the critical reception to the film has been so divisive. For those who don’t particularly have an interest in the work of a provocateur, or who don’t want to know what a DMT trip through consciousness looks like, it may be best to avoid this one.

But for those who appreciate a more experimental (if occasionally pointless) style of cinema, or those who have seen and appreciated Irreversible or even Noe’s less polished I Stand Alone, this film is both a departure and a continuation of that work. It assaults the senses in many of the same ways Irreversible deployed (the opening credits are incredible (strobe warning for the link)), but is a gentler overall experience, and one with more optimism to boot.

It’s also on Netflix if you wanna check it out (though it’s the “short version” there)


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