Last year, as you may recall, James Cameron released a film made with the budget of a midsized, third-world country. His intentions were noble: He wanted to give people something new—a reason to go to the movies, an overwhelming event that could never be replicated at home. Avatar was huge and immersive; it was also Dances With Smurfs. Gaspar Noé also wants to give you something new: a movie as an experience. With Enter the Void, he’s certainly done it, and with considerably less groan-worthy content (although there is some). He’s just done it in a way that will alienate 90 percent of viewers.
Noé’s gimmick: just under 2 1/2 hours of subjective cinema. We see through the eyes of low-rent American drug dealer Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) as he hangs with friends, walks around Tokyo and does drugs, cuing a block of psychedelic colors and undulating spiky spirals. Police eventually gun him—and us—down, a moment as traumatizing in its way as the extreme bits in Noé’s notorious (and great) Irreversible.
The afterlife, it turns out, hews close to the Tibetan Book of the Dead (helpfully mentioned in the first of the film’s four sections). Oscar revisits scenes from his turbulent life on shuffle; after this incredible setpiece, almost an hour in length, his soul (and the camera) floats about the ceilings of those left behind, including his stripper sister (Paz de la Huerta, as usual naked and polymorphously perverse).
It’s a nifty experiment niftily pulled off, but Noé can’t do anything simple. The film is awash with awesomely tacky neon, long BJ scenes, glowing green dicks, aborted fetuses and a climactic sight surely never before committed to film. And perhaps to atone for the (probably intentionally) stoner-deep philosophizing, it throws in aggressive but maddeningly unresolved incestual subtext. Oscar and sis, orphaned at a young age, are so close he ogles her naked and she lovingly devours his ear with her whole mouth. More than once, Oscar’s soul travels inside the eyes of a man ravaging her.
Enter the Void is a milestone in cinematic maximalism. That it’s also beyond messed-up is just an added bonus.