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A Masterpiece, But Not for Everybody


I went to see the new movie Enter the Void largely because some critics have said it was influenced by Kubrick’s 2001, one of my all-time Top Ten. Having seen it, I agree: But no one should go and see it in the hope of experiencing the stark, futuristic alienation of the first two hours of 2001, because the influence is entirely from the psychedelic final journey of 2001’s time-and-space-transcending astronaut.

For such a dazzling and visually complex film, Enter the Void has a remarkably simple plot: Two little children, a brother and sister, lose their parents in a car crash. They vow to stay together and take care of each other. They are separated and reunited. The brother gets killed in a drug deal gone awry, and watches over the sister from some sort of astral plane.

Most of the film is seen from the perspective of the hovering brother. We are warned what to expect when he mentions, shortly before his death, that he has been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The afterlife is presented here as a startling mix of Kubrickian sound-and-light show, and a semi-immanent experience of the lives of others who remain on the terrestrial plane. Some of the key events the brother watches/participates in might be dismissed as Freudian, until one remembers that Freud was interested in that stuff for good reason: One gets the feeling in this film that one is witnessing truly primal scenes, the parts of life that matter most deeply to the heart. The last half hour or so presents immanence in the extreme, as the disembodied brother enters a “Love Hotel” of sexual intimacy — and finally becomes part of an act of conception presented so graphically, yet imaginatively, that it elicited laughs of surprise from the West Village audience.

This masterpiece is, basically, a celebration of life. It begins with a confrontation of death, works its way through love, hate, and heartbreak, and culminates in childbirth – in other words, it reverses the trajectory of life as we experience it to help us appreciate its true sense. (One especially nice touch is that occasionally, when scenes show the sister being viewed by the brother in tender moments, the soundtrack features the Air from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, played not by a traditional orchestra but by what sounds like a vibraphone. It’s one of the most beautiful melodies the West has ever produced, and also one of the best known; but it sounds strange and new in this rendition.)

In short, a great movie about basic human experiences. BUT (and I can’t stress this enough): It is not for everyone, and especially not for those under 18. The scenes of violence, including the surprising car crash, are gruesome; and the sex scenes are more explicit than anything I’ve ever seen in a legitimate movie theatre. The film is not rated, but if it were, X would be the only appropriate rating.

The New York Times reviewer, strangely enough, warned readers that the film contains “a graphic scene of an abortion”; but the abortion was actually not that graphic. We are indeed shown the dead baby afterwards, but, as the NYT critic correctly pointed out, the baby is “ludicrously intact”—an interesting choice by the director, I think, because while it’s less gruesome, it actually helps the viewer recognize the human nature of the baby. To show a tiny mess of blood and guts – something not recognizably human, at first sight – would make it easier for the viewer to distance himself from the fact that he shares a nature with the aborted. As it is, this depiction of human life thwarted by human choice sets us up for the celebration of human life at the film’s end.