|Watching him watch others Enter the Void.|
By John Esther
Enter. Friedrich Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; George Bataille’s Erotism; Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”; Arthur Schopenhauer; The Germs; Candide (Voltaire); David Lynch’s Inland Empire; Ultravox’s “Western Promise”; Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well; Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story; Radiohead’s There, There; Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation; Ingmar Bergman; Ingmar Bergman’s Thirst; Beatles’ “Within You, Without You”; Michelangelo Antonioni’s phenomenal final tracking shot in The Passenger; the over-the-shoulder viewpoint works here as opposed to Darren Aronofsky’s misdirection in The Wrestler; those cowardly critics in the trades; Ultravox’s “I Want to Be a Machine”; Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers; Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales; this makes those tracking shots in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas all the more boring and seem light-ed years away; Wenders’ Wings of Desire; Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s epilepsy a la the opening credits; James Joyce’s Ulysses; Lars von Trier’s Zentropa; the “book drop shot” in Krzystof Kieslowski’s Red; Michel Foucault’s ideological accretions and deletions; Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark; Solaris (both); Carl Cox and the three turntables; Peter Greenaway’s A Zed & Two Noughts; Philip K. Dick – in particular, A Scanner Darkly; so the circle is not dead; film academic William Van Wert; CGI is in the Art House; Sigmund Freud; exchange cock for car and the protagonist becomes impotent a la Chinatown; Cabaret Voltaire’s “Crackdown” and “Sex, Money, Freaks”; Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York; Thorton Wilder’s Our Town; and taxonomies are perhaps, perchance, per se, pure say, purr/stay, for the PRSA and precisely a few of the legible thoughts which crisscrossed, circumnavigated and swerved while watching Gasper Noé’s cinematic construct.
According to Noé’s testimonies, the atheistic-educated, adolescent pot smoker-turned-screenwriter/director/cameraperson/co-editor/associate producer had some similar (i.e. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; Dick and dick) yet more differing thoughts (i.e. Lady in the Lake; Robert Moody’s Life after Death; Katherine Bigelow’s Strange Days; and Tron), put into the text, although, at the least, his oeuvre proves he is no stranger to post-Sartrean French intellectual thought.
Divided by a hallucinatory scene of illustrious colors during two world-class tracking shots – that mirror in the bathroom scene! -- transports a young drug dealing American expatriate named Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) to a Tokyo nightclub where the setup by a friend-turned-fiend named Victor (Olly Alexander) because of Oscar’s sexual relationship with Victor’s mother (Sara Stockbridge) leads to Oscar’s death at the hands of Japanese police and the post-life recollections and recreations of Oscar’s life.
Brilliantly shot from Oscar’s, and only Oscar’s point-of-view, Oscar and the camera hover and circle over the past, present and future of the dead, young man’s life: the cataclysmic car crash that took the lives of his biological mother and father (Janice Sicotte-Beliveau and Simon Chamberland, respectively); the birth canal/blood oath he shares with his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta); copulating scenes of family members –- including a hilarious “money shot”; his relationship to his only true friend, Alex (Cyril Roy); his relationship to Victor; sake and Saki (Sakiko Fukuhara -- put pun pere); his interactions with others; the lives of others before and after his demise; etc., back and forth, flotsam and jetsam, great highs to grave depths; tenebrous to the incandescent-ing ; in and out of the minds of Alex and others; disco-rd to umbilical cord; wound to womb; adulthood in the east (Japan) to childhood in the west (Canada, because Made in USA would have been too expensive). In other words, the twilight’s last gleaming of a young, wild, and damned (promising) man is captured.
A groundbreaking “psychedelic melodrama” by any “cinematographic means” necessary, if you think last year’s Avatar broke boundaries, for every breakthrough James Cameron’s film offers technologically, Noé’s film does artistically. There is much more to experience and any other attitude may be cowardice.
Writing of which, judging by the ridiculous responses reported at the 2010 Sundance and SXSW Film Festivals, it seems viewing the film requires a certain cerebral capacity in dIs-Order to b-are/ear its roughly 160-minutes of sense and sensory overdrive. (The Cannes Film Festival 2009 screening was not the film’s “definitive form,” said Noé). Then there are the themes/d-reams/scenes of incest (“Ah, the western syndrome!”); a personal dioramic orgasmic porno(é)graphic personal apocalypse; drug induced hallucinations; various s(t)ink hole shots, an abortion and its dis/car-de(a)d/contents; Linda learning about the death of a family member -- from the spontaneous (parents) to the protracted (brother); a strip club; a roller coaster car crash; philosophical discussions based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the drug, DMT; the fear Noé is going to give us another shocking scene on par with Irreversible’s bludgeoning and rape scenes (he does not); parental loss; “average characters” at fault for their untimely deaths; etc., to endure. This film is not for the squeamish (or epileptic). At least English-speaking audiences do not have to worry about subtitles.
Unless this is Oscar’s omniscient/omni-potent(cy/see) drug induced trip in wastelandedUcated, and it legitimately could be, the film’s primary underachievement (which seems an unfair word to use here) is the beyond-the-grave narrative. I almost always loathe such reactionary narratives (i.e. Our Town; It’s a Wonderful Life; American Beauty; Lovely Bones), but here it is forgivable because it works without being sentimental, superstitious or spiritual in any traditional meaning or affirmation of the afterlife. (The film’s neo-structuralism could do wandering wonders for a reeled real historical figure.)
Highly likely to make my top ten of 2010, even if the film is not the best film of the year, the increasingly talented Noé has made the film event of the year. Lead grip Akira Kanna deserves kudos, too. Void.