Saturday, 24 August 2013

Enter the Void (2009)

Enter the Void (2009)I knew next to nothing about this movie despite it's being a few years old. I imagined it was about something that's quite different. Believe it or not, I didn't even know about its excessive sexual content (yes, I'm living under a rock).This is a good because I didn't watch it with preconceived ideas.

Sex, Drug and Tokyo would also make an appropriate title for this movie. Another alternative title might be Death and Sexes.

This movie is differentiated itself from others because of its extensive use of particular 3 story telling devices, or directorial techniques. They're narrative structure, POV (point of view), and ambiance or mood.

Narrative Structure
While its narrative structure isn't any where as innovative as Christopher Nolan's 2 masterpieces Memento (2000), and Inception (2011), it's far from simple and linear.

The film could be divided into 3 parts + finale (although I didn't consciously check the running time, but I suspect the 3 parts have the same length).

The 1st part is about the protagonist's life in his physical body. The 2nd consists of flashbacks of his life preceding the 1st part. The 3rd part is about his existence as a spirit/soul until the finale.

Even within the flashback of the 2nd part, it has sudden temporal jumps. Mainly it's done for the purposes of linking concept.

In most movies (99.9%), directors employ the fly-on-the-wall POV. Imagine that you - the audience - are a fly, and you can fly around, unnoticed by the characters - including the lead - in the story, and seeing everything from above, below, left, right and centre. Of course, the fly is where the camera is placed.

In this movie, the whole story is told from a character's POV. I.e. you're seeing what our lead Oscar sees. As we can't see our own faces, and neither could Oscar see his own face (unless he stands in front of a mirror).

Even though this movie only let us view everything from Oscar's character's POV, there're in
fact 3 perspectives from Oscar's character's POV.

The 1st perspective (or the front view) is all familiar to us, that we see only what's in front of my eyes (we can see thing behind us when we turn our heads. But we still only see what's in front of our own eyes).

Enter the Void (2009) pair of bloody hands
1st perspective, seeing only what's in front of his eyes
The 2nd perspective (or the top view) is similar to 1st perspective except it's an aerial perspective, or bird's eye view. This is because Oscar exists as an astral body or soul at this point of the story, and is flying or floating above, looking down.

Enter the Void - aerial view
2nd perspective, seeing from an aerial view
In the 3rd perspective (or the rear view), we see only Oscar's back. Since we only see the story through the Oscar's eyes, imagine you see only your own back! This situation will never happen in our own real life experience, but it's done to simulate the perspective of Oscar's soul seeing his life flashes in front of his own eyes.

Bear in mind that the word "flashback" has the word "back" in it. His life is being viewed from hindsight ("hindsight" literally means "looking from behind").

Enter the Void (2009)
3rd perspective, seeing only from Oscar's back in flashback

The 3 perspectives could also be interpreted as follows,
1st perspective or front view represents the present where time flows forwards, hence front view.
2st perspective or rear view represents the past where time flows backwards, hence rear view.
3rd perspective or top view represents the a third party looking downwards, hence top view.

The 1st two perspectives are metaphors for time. The last perspectives is a metaphor for space.

Mood or Ambiance
Not only the story is told in different perspectives according to the different Planes of existence (physical body, astral body, spirit), it's also shown using different moods according to the state of mind of our lead Oscar.

Enter the Void (2009) Childhood cene
Warm and soft brown sepia tone of childhood scene
again, only the young Oscar's back is being seen
When the flashback of Oscar's childhood is revealed, it's shown in predominately golden warm tone to reflect his loving environment before the car accident. All the scenes after Oscar becomes an addict is trippy. And the scenes in his teenage years but before he takes up hallucinogens is more prosaic.

Tokyo is chosen because of its well known blazing neon light in its red light district. Its dazzling neon lights could be described as psychedelic. That psychedelia would be enhanced with magic mushrooms and whatnot. Or is simply a visual metaphor for the drug underworld.

In addition to the eye searing neon lights, the Tokyo sex district is filled with love hotels. This is a venue for some of the scenes in this movie, especially towards the finale.

Enter the Void (2009) Tokyo Love Hotels
Psychedelic scene of a love hotel in Tokyo sex district
Since Tokyo is - to many Western mind - an exotic place. Exoticism and eroticism often mixes in Hollywood movies.

Last but not least, this oriental Buddhist country seems to tie in well - and jarringly clashes at the same time - with the whole Tibetan Buddhist philosophy regarding death. Director Gaspar NoĆ© has little problem in combining mind altering near death experiences, tunnel of lights, astral projection, etc with that of mind blowing psychedelic trips. At least from a visual impact point of view (no pun intended).

Oscar the male lead reads the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which to many scholars, it's essentially an user guide for the newly departed. This helps Oscar to get to know his way around the journey of the after life (always a good idea to read the travel guide for a given destination before a journey). The 3rd part of the movie spends on this soul roaming.

There's no coincidence that the Tibetan Book of the Dead and psychedelia are closely intertwined in this movie. Timothy Leary, the psychedelic guru, who believed Tibetan Book of the Dead is in fact an interpretation or depiction of LSD experiences. I've little doubt that this film is inspired by the works of Timothy Leary.

All the different techniques aren't innovative or revolutionary. They've been employed many times before. What makes this film unique is how extensive are these techniques being applied.

Take the 1st perspective character's POV. I'm sure moviegoers have seen this technique being used in many other movies before. For example, when a character in a film is being tied to their leg, dangling upside down, it isn't uncommon to see that the scene would be shown upside down.

So why it isn't used often? For one thing, if all directors would all use this 1st perspective character's POV, we would never see our hero/protagonist's face in movies (and we have to rely on them to look into a mirror to see their faces). This is obviously undesirable. When the audience buys a ticket to see their heart throbs, they want to see their idols' faces.

What about the actors themselves? They probably wouldn't want to appear in a movie when they actually not appearing. In fact, anyone else could play the actors as their faces are never being seen. They can have other actors play them, and do a voice over. Facial expression is one of the most important skill of an actor. Without seeing their facial expression, can we still call it acting? What about delivering dialogues? Well, the dialogues in this film is sparse. Not that this is a surprise. This is a very much a visual story.

Enter the Void (2009) looking into the mirror
One of the 3 scenes where the actor's face is being seen frontally
as he looks into a mirror.
As for Nathaniel Brown who plays Oscar. This is his 1st film, and a nobody before that. For somebody who should be more than grateful for given his film debut in a movie of this budget, was not going to dictating terms to a well known director.

As you can see, some techniques aren't often used because of various valid reasons (commercial being the most important one).

Actually, even in terms of extensive use of the character's POV in a movie, this isn't the first. Lady in the Lake (1947) - a film based on detective Philip Marlowe - is a much earlier movie that made extensive use of this funny POV. In fact, the director said he was inspired by it.

Having said that, the director made very clever uses of this POV in all possible manners. Far more sophisticated than that used in Lady in the Lake (1947).

Another shortcoming of this film is that it's too long. It runs for 2 hrs and 40 mins. You can easily edit out 30 mins without altering the story in the slightest, except making it shorter and sweeter to watch. You can cut out another 30 mins to simplify the story a little, and make it more bearable. I can't think of a single reason why it has to be so long.

Having said that, the movie is without a doubt experimenting what the visual medium has to offer. There's no question of its uniqueness of vision in the cinematic history.

If you try to watch it for messages, you would be disappointed. If you watch it as a visual tour de force, you would be more receptive. In other words, watch for its techniques, not for its content. Don't get me wrong. Its content is far from boring (it's the opposite), it's simply incoherent by trying to throw everything into it but the kitchen sink.

The exploitative slant of the film, which is typical of social nihilism that this director is an advocate of, reduces the film from reaching mainstream or gaining more respectability. Still, it's a visual and directorial masterpiece. But I wouldn't want to watch another movie like this. One such film is truly great and original. Two is one too many.

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