Imagine you are not reading these words. Imagine these words flickering and then fading into non-being before your eyes. Imagine these disappearing words conveying you into my head. You are no longer my reader. You are my writer. You are me now. Your vision and my vision: a braid. We are doing this together so that you might understand what Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void will do to you. Being here with me, filling up this blank page with me, will give you some idea of the mind game Noé has in store for you. Trust that being in my skull is a lot less discomfiting (and significantly less fun) than the trip you’re about to take.
We’ve been pummeled by Noé before—the first 45 minutes of Irreversible, with their assaults and rape, are quite possibly the most harrowing in the history of relatively mainstream film—so the strobing neon fonts and hammering techno of Enter the Void’s seizing opening credits come as no surprise. That’s Noé playing the bullying pusher, pulling you into the center of his sick disco, shouting into your face. “Here,” he says, “take this. See you on the other side, brother.” You’ve been dosed and altered by blinking lights, but don’t worry: Nothing else in the film will be as intense or potentially brain damaging. What follows is mind expansion, not a concussion.
Riding the spectral reverberations of Noé’s opening textual assault, we graduate into a shared awareness. We are inside of Oscar’s head. Oscar does drugs, deals drugs. His eyes are our eyes, his thoughts our thoughts. When he blinks, the screen blinks. When he thinks, we hear it, seem to think along with him as his gaze wanders the tiny Tokyo apartment he shares with his sister. It is a POV experiment with precedents—Lady in the Lake and the opening of Strange Days come to mind—but when Noé adds dimethyltryptamine to the formula via Oscar’s glowing glass pipe, which we toke on along with him, the world breaks and recoheres into something more than a nifty optical illusion—something more like a drug movie that actually drugs you; or a movie about death that feels like dying; or a reincarnation fable that feels like being born; or, really, a movie that doesn’t feel like a movie, but a long, sublimely damaged life crammed into just over two hours.
After watching Oscar’s ceiling morph into a five-minute melt of fractal psychedelia, he carries us down stairs and alleyways in what seems to be a single long take (the cuts are hidden à la Rope), bringing us to his fatal assignation in a bar called The Void, where he will die curled around a toilet, which is where the trip really begins, because Oscar does not blink out into nothingness. His moribund mind could be conjuring a DMT-assisted dream before his brain finally goes dark—Noé has suggested this in interviews—but what appears to happen is an ascension beyond the physical. Noé’s camera lifts from Oscar’s head along with Oscar’s liberated consciousness, and we are now passengers on a magic carpet ride with a pinwheeling recording angel who soars over Tokyo, through time, and into other peoples’ heads in search of some way to stay on Earth with his (its?) sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), the only person he loves, the reason he cannot leave, cannot actually be dead, because he promised they’d be together forever.
A hokey conceit, sure, and Noé’s got a lot more cheese in store—think glowing vaginas, a cervix-cam, and the same mommy-as-Goddess tripe that marred the otherwise perfect Irreversible—but have you ever done drugs? Or had a dream? Cosmic silliness has a tendency to invade a cracked head, and when your brain splinters into a blown dandelion clock, the fragments drift down onto the profound and the profoundly dumb alike, and I even wonder if we don’t need Enter the Void’s stale New Age borrowings—it’s like, all a dream, dude, and have you read the Tibetan Book of the Dead?—to keep us safe inside something familiar as we careen through purgatory with Oscar, because this a dangerous trip: Imagine you are not reading this or writing this but dreaming this as I dream this. Me and you, flying, soaring, crashing. That will give you some idea. You really have no idea.