A void the ‘Void’ if you’re squeamish
Just a few minutes into Gaspar Noe’s pretentious but absorbing Enter the Void, its hero is shot dead during a drug bust as he tries to dump his stash. Oscar is a young American who has been drawn into the sleazy depths of Tokyo’s drug and prostitution underworld by a friend who, by happy chance, has recently lent him a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This detail should let viewers who know Noe’s earlier films that they are in for some posturing.
Noe likes to make shockers and offer them up as metaphysical statements. His previous feature, the backwards-running Irreversible, solemnly proclaimed the insight that time devours everything. But, as with that notorious film, viewers attuned to this kind of assaultive cinema may find themselves getting drawn into Enter the Void even as they recognise its moments of naughty-boy silliness.
This time the centre is the allegedly Tibetan idea that humans after death are too much in love with the world to leave it, and choose to return to it via reincarnation. This concept is expounded at the beginning of the film by Oscar’s book-lending friend Alex, who is presented as a kind of Mephistophelean guide, a counterpart of the similarly well-meaning journalist who introduces the dying Watanabe to the gamier side of nighttime Tokyo in Kurosawa’s Ikiru.
As Oscar dies, sprawled on the floor of a filthy toilet cubicle, the screen goes white and flickers disturbingly for so long that it seems in danger of sending some epileptic viewers crashing to the floor. Then gradually his spirit rises from his body and drifts around a luminous Tokyo, passing into and through people and objects that return him to incidents in his life that gradually reveal who he is and how he wound up dead in a urinal.