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Enter the Void

Jeremy Clarke

Directed by Gaspar Noé
Certificate 18, 135 mins


The eponymous Void is a seedy Tokyo nightclub which the drugs-using protagonist Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) enters to deliver a stash to a friend. The club is raided and Oscar, locked in the toilet cubicle desperately trying to flush away his incriminating supply, is shot dead through the door by the cops. Bound by a pact with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta) never to leave her, Oscar's spirit (that is, the camera) wanders through night-time Tokyo watching over her and those with whom she comes into contact.

From its opening, the narrative is filmed from Oscar's point of view. This has been done before, most notably in the 1947 Chandler adaptation The Lady In The Lake and Jan Svankmajer's rather better 1983 Poe reworking The Pit, The Pendulum And Hope. It's effective in Enter the Void while the character is alive, allowing him to float out of his body and see himself during a drug trip, but once he's dead it feels as though we are floating in and out of his spirit, sometimes watching alongside it, sometimes seeing whatever an arbitrarily moving camera wants us to see.

Equally arresting is the material dealing with the way Oscar and Linda were devastated by the death of both parents in a car crash, leaving the pair to fend for themselves. The crash is presented as not so much a flashback as a recurring memory/nightmare which interrupts the stream of consciousness, waking or dreaming, at unexpected moments, to devastating effect.

Towards the end of the film, the camera crosses the rooms of a Love Hotel where various couples, each representing characters already featured in the proceedings, engage various sorts of physical sex. While this has shock value, I was more impressed by a sequence involving out-of-focus cinematography where a maternal nipple suddenly swims into focus like an invitation for the viewer to suckle, an extraordinary evocation of an experience most will have had but few will remember.

The coitus and other physical sexual activity here portrayed seems to be not simulated but real, meaning that the actors have been required to engage in real sex for the camera. The film isn't pornographic, since its director has a clear vision and is trying to make an artistic statement on a very deep level.

However, the question arises: is this something actors should be legitimately required to do or does this in fact cross an unacceptable boundary? One is reminded of Marlon Brando saying that he never wanted to have to do anything like that again following his performance in Last Tango In Paris. Surely, if you pays your money and sees the film, you become in some sense complicit with these demands on the actors, which is something we need to weigh seriously.

On the one hand, this is certainly an exhilarating work of technical genius dealing with perception, sex, death and birth. On the other, it is also a questionable exploitation by a director of his cast. One part of me is really glad to have seen it, another hears alarm bells and thinks there's something terribly wrong. 

Jeremy Clarke