Enter the Void

gaspar noe by David Baddeley

Enter the Void is a 2009 French film written and directed by Gaspar Noé, labeled by Noé as a ‘psychedelic melodrama. The story is set in Tokyo and focuses on Oscar, a young American drug dealer who gets shot by the police, but continues to watch over his sister Linda and the events which follow during an out-of-body experience, floating above Tokyo’s streets. The film is shot from a first-person view, and occasionally features Oscar staring over his own shoulder as he recalls moments from his past.

Having been Noé’s dream project for many years, the production of ‘Enter the Void’ was made possible due to the commercial success of ‘Irréversible,’ the director’s previous feature film. The film makes heavy use of imagery inspired by experimental cinema and psychedelic drug experiences. Principal photography took place on location in Tokyo and involved many complicated crane shots.

The cinematic experience itself is the main focus of the film, but there is also a central theme of emptiness. Gaspar Noé describes the film’s subject as ‘the sentimentality of mammals and the shimmering vacuity of the human experience.’ The dramaturgy after Oscar’s death is loosely based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and ends with the spirit’s search for a way to reincarnate.

However the director, who considers himself completely non-religious, says that ‘the whole movie is a dream of someone who read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and heard about it before being [shot by a gun]. It’s not the story of someone who dies, flies and is reincarnated, it’s the story of someone who is stoned when he gets shot and who has an intonation of his own dream.’

The idea for the film had been growing since Noé’s adolescence, when he first started to become interested in matters of death and existence. In his early twenties he saw Robert Montgomery’s ‘Lady in the Lake,’ a 1947 film shot entirely in a first person perspective, while under influence of psilocybin mushrooms. He then decided that if he ever made a film about the afterlife, that was the way it would be filmed. Noé had been writing on different versions of the screenplay for fifteen years before it officially went into production.

The story had initially been more linear, and the drafts were set in different locations including the Andes, France and New York City. Tokyo was eventually chosen both because it could provide the colorful environments required for the film’s hallucinogenic aspects, and because of Japan’s repressive drug laws, which would add to the drama and explain the intensity of the main character’s fear of the police.

The choice to use English-speaking actors was made early on. Since the film would be very visual, the director wanted audiences to be able to focus only on the images, and not have to rely on subtitles.

Noé had tried various hallucinogens in his youth and used those experiences as inspiration for the visual style. One particular drug experience came later, when the director already was planning the film, and traveled to the Peruvian jungle to try Ayahuasca where it is legal. The experience was very intense and Noé regarded it ‘almost like professional research.’ Since few in the design team ever had taken a hallucinogen, it became necessary for Noé to collect and provide visual references in the forms of paintings, photographs, music videos and excerpts from films. The work of botanist Edouard Marie Heckel was one reference used for the organic patterns seen during Oscar’s visions.

There was a 100-page screenplay which detailed plot developments and many of the visual traits, but very little dialogue was scripted, so the actors were asked to improvise their lines. Noé explained this approach: ‘For me, directing actors is just finding the right people and putting them in the right mood on the set and letting them go. … I think the energy has to come on the set at the very last minute.’

Since much of the film was set in neighborhoods known for gambling and prostitution, it was necessary to make agreements with the Yakuza before filming some of the on-location scenes, although there was no involvement of criminal organisations in the actual production.

Noé initially asked Thomas Bangalter, a member of Daft Punk who had composed the music for ‘Irréversible,’ to make an original soundtrack for ‘Enter the Void.’ Bangalter was however occupied with work on ‘Tron: Legacy’ and instead served as sound effects director. He provided Noé with an arrangement of ambient sounds and samples of existing experimental music, from which Noé compiled what he visioned as ‘a maelstrom of sounds.’

One of the sources of inspiration for this was ‘Revolution 9’ by The Beatles, a song which Noé describes as a work ‘where you catch the beginning of a note, or of a melody and then it’s already somewhere else.’ The two main musical themes of the film are ‘Freak’ by the British electro artist LFO, which is played during the opening credits, and a recording by Delia Derbyshire of Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Air on the G String,’ which serves as the theme for Oscar’s childhood and his relationship with Linda.

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