French provocateur Gaspar Noé famously cleared a vast swath of the Lumière theater when his last effort, 2002’s stunning Irréversible, premièred at the Cannes Film Festival. But most of the seats were vacated not during the film’s notorious nine-minute, single-shot rape scene, but during its opening descent into a club called “Le Rectum,” as a swirling camera followed two men down, down, down into a pit of depravity and violence. With that in mind, who could have guessed that the “Le Rectum” sequence would be mere prelude to Noé’s follow-up feature, Enter The Void, an acid-soaked phantasmagoria that employs the same first-person, tilt-a-whirl camera technique for a full 137 minutes? Or that a technique intended to be assaultive and disturbing in Irréversible should prove so alluring and hypnotic this time around? It takes some adjustment, but Enter The Void is a trance-like experience, feeding the shimmering neon of Tokyo at night into a spectacular hallucinogenic head-trip.
The style needs to be as engrossing, too, because taken straight, Enter The Void is often dumber than a box of hammers. After their parents died in a car accident, Nathaniel Brown and Paz de la Huerta forged a powerful sibling bond, but circumstances have kept them apart. (It’s You Can Count On Me for acid freaks.) Brown scrapes together enough money as a small-time drug dealer to bring his sister to Tokyo, but she quickly falls into a stripping job for a seedy character. When Brown gets shot and killed in a drug deal gone wrong, their efforts to reconnect should be short-circuited, but his spirit lives on in the form of a first-person camera that zips around the streets, clubs, and apartments of Tokyo, following her wherever she goes.
Noé doesn’t set up the spiritual angle with any subtlety: Brown just happens to be reading a copy of The Tibetan Book Of The Dead before his spirit takes flight, and direct references to 2001: A Space Odyssey make plain the film’s ambition to engage the transcendent mysteries of the universe. But Enter The Void is an experiential marvel, wired to paralyze the brain through a full-on assault on the senses. Noé goes far out on a limb stylistically, challenging the limits of human perception, but the film falls squarely and triumphantly in the tradition of drug-addled midnight visions like El Topo and Liquid Sky. No acid required.