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Enter the Void
by Gaspar NoƩ (Director)
IFC Films 
Movie Reviews
Reviewed by Jon Hanna, 2/21/2012

I hate to stop watching a movie once I have started. There’s some broken part of my psyche that feels it is unfair to damn a movie as “not worth watching” unless I have seen the whole thing. Perhaps I am an optimist. (Certainly I keep hoping that a mediocre movie will get better.) Ironically, by the time I have logged the duration of a bad movie, my not having bailed before it ended may be interpreted by some that the film wasn’t so horrid that I couldn’t take it any more. I am only left with the pathetic irritation that I will never get that 90+ minutes of my life back, and it is my own fucking fault.

Movies that merely suffer from crappy writing or poor acting rarely affect me to the extent that I go out of my way to warn others against them. Occasionally a movie may be excellent on many levels, yet feature content so unsettling that I recommend skipping it. Pan’s Labyrinth springs to mind. I can only think of one movie that was both so pointless and so disturbing that I feel it should be entirely removed from circulation: Tideland.

More often, the movies I feel ripped off by—and which I encourage others to avoid—are those that cause me to suffer an excruciatingly drawn-out period of boredom. The critically acclaimed film that I call The Unbearable Longness of Movie represents 171 stolen minutes of my life. In that vein, if you’ve not yet seen it, Enter the Void exemplifies 143 minutes of your life that you can still save! The only justification/redemption for having waited it out until the end of this movie that I can imagine is knowing that if I can save those wasted minutes for even one other person, it will have been worth the additional time taken to write this review.

Based on a superficial plot description, two sorts of people might feel compelled—even against my advice—to see this film: drug geeks and religious studies geeks. When a friend described the premise to me, I was intrigued. “It’s about a guy who smokes DMT, then dies, and in a post-death bardo, he starts floating around above his sister trying to figure out why he was killed and whether or not she is in any danger.” Since there aren’t too many films that feature DMT smoking and the afterlife as major plot vehicles, this movie seemed like a “must watch”.

The film kicks off with Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young drug dealer living in Tokyo, smoking DMT. We’re treated to an extended CGI scene that seems to last longer than if one had actually smoked DMT, and which largely lacks the sort of uniquely compelling alien/other-worldly quality that DMT can evoke. The visual depiction is by no means horrible; it’s kind of pretty, in a mandalaesque way; but, ultimately, it’s just sort of dull.

While he’s tripping, Oscar gets a phone call regarding a deal. His buddy Alex (Cyril Roy) then stops by his apartment for a visit. Alex brings up how he finds Oscar’s sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) to be attractive, and how he agrees with her that Oscar should stop dealing because of the dangers involved in that line of business. But Oscar needs to make the drug delivery, so they head outside.

Walking in the city, they discuss concepts from Alex’s copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Oscar is in the middle of reading. Alex mentions the idea—as though it is a known fact—that DMT is released from the brain when a person dies. He also describes how the Bardo Thodol says that, after dying, one must pass through a series of lights, and that a person may revisit experiences from his past life, and that eventually one is shown scenes from possible future lives in order to choose the right parents for his or her next incarnation.

Unfortunately, the movie’s audio quality is muddy and Alex’s accent makes him challenging to understand. The director’s choice to have much of the dialogue improvised by the cast may have additionally contributed to the difficulty in hearing what was being said at times, but it also probably added a sense of realism that might not have otherwise been conveyed. Enhancing that sense of realism, the movie was filmed using a “low budget” look, sometimes simulating the slight flicker reminiscent of old home movies, which adds a dreary quality to the scenes depicted. Noé has also shot entirely in “subjective camera”, filming from the point of view of the main character.

In the bar where Oscar meets his customer, the deal goes bad. Cops show up instantly, making one wonder if Oscar was set up, and he is shot and killed through a bathroom door while attempting to flush the drugs. After his death, the remaining scenes are experienced through Oscar’s disembodied eyes.

Viewers are then subjected to a series of interminable flashbacks from Oscar’s life mixed with “real time” shots from above, where Oscar’s consciousness hovers above his sister and his friends in Tokyo. And just as Alex had told him would be the case, his consciousness gets to repeatedly blip through bright lights at various intervals. In a sense, the story that is revealed is too realistic; the lives of Oscar, Linda, and the other characters are mundane, seedy, and depressing. The crucial plot element is that as young children, after living through the tragic car accident that violently killed their parents in front of them, Oscar and Linda make a pact to stay with each other forever.

I’ll give the movie credit for taking chances with its approaches toward presenting different aspects of the tale, even if these approaches didn’t always work for me in the end. One approach that was done pretty well was the occasional abrupt shift between various flashbacks that depicted similar content; such shifts were presented in a manner that was visually evocative of the sort of mental effects that psychedelics can produce when moving from a memory to a real-life scene that is similar to the memory. When in “flashback” mode, Oscar views the scenes from the perspective of a camera pointed at the back of his head. Though this approach was novel and artsy at first, it got old after a while to forever be looking at the back of dude’s head blocking the scenes. And with so many of the present time scenes being depicted from above, the movie made me feel a bit dizzy at times.

The slow pace and largely predictable story (yes, it ended exactly as foreshadowed in the first few minutes of the film) could also be interpreted—if one buys into the concept of the bardo realm—as actually being a painfully accurate portrayal of what it feels like to be trapped outside your body, still witness to a world that you can no longer affect, ping-ponging between that and your past memories for what seems like an eternity. No doubt you, too, would eventually figure out a path toward reincarnating, when stuck in a hellishly boring space similar to how one feels while watching this movie.

If the folks from The Partnership at need any fuel to feed the ideals of their non-profit organization’s media-driven attempt at persuading America’s youth to eschew drugs, they could sponsor showings of Enter the Void. Children might learn that creative inspiration produced via the confluence of psychedelics and Eastern spiritual philosophies leads to self-indulgent, tiresome filmmaking. THIS is what results from smoking DMT, kids!

Those who find the topics of “psychedelic drug use” and “escaping purgatory” so compelling that they still want to watch Enter the Void after reading this review are encouraged to instead rent the excellent movie Jacob’s Ladder featuring Tim Robbins. Or if it’s just a movie about DMT that you’re after, you’ll fare much better with Mitch Schultz’ documentary The Spirit Molecule.

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