When a Void is not a Void—a sort-of review of Enter the Void
© 2011, Jonathan Zap
Edited by Austin Iredale (An epilogue was added in 2012 which is not to be found in the podcast recorded in 2011)
This sort-of review of Enter the Void is for people who have seen the film. If you haven’t seen the film, do it right: Blu-ray, surround sound, 32” (minimum size) 1080P screen, nighttime, fairly empty stomach, and whatever else you would do to prepare yourself for a life-changing vision that will be both eerily beautiful and traumatic. In the past some people have been disdainful of my insistence on quality equipment, and have characterized it as an indulgence in consumerism and gadget obsession. But you wouldn’t want to hear a Beethoven symphony for the first time via the speaker of a cell phone, would you? Would you want to have sex for the first time while wearing fifty condoms? Sensory impact is crucial and this movie was intended to have sensory impact. Without gadgets there are no movies, and without the right gadgets movies have insufficient sensory impact. Watch the film in the right conditions or wait until you can find them. Don’t cheat yourself and try to watch this, or any movie worth watching, on a Netbook or other under-sized screen.
This is not in any conventional sense a movie review. You can find everything you need to know about how Enter the Void was made, the director’s intentions, etc. online. Also, let’s make this plain from the outset: I have never agreed with the foolish idea that the meaning of a work of art is reducible to the artist’s intentions. Some people find out what a director, for example, intended to mean by an aspect of his film and then take that as definitive and consider any other interpretation to be misinformed or merely a projection.
Especially with visionary art, it is quite common that the artist does not consciously comprehend all the possible levels of meaning embedded in his work. It is also very common that the artist’s waking attitude causes him to have limited or distorted views of what he has created. Visionary, surreal art also invites projection, and projections may discover, amplify and extend meanings that go beyond the artist’s conscious intentions.
For myself, I’ve found that just as new layers of meaning may emerge from one of my dreams I think I’ve already interpreted, so too with photos I’ve taken, various things I’ve written—layers of meaning may be discovered later, by myself or others, that appropriately go beyond my original conscious intentions.
One artist who understands this is David Lynch. In some of he extras on the DVDs of Twin Peaks/Fire Walk with Me, Michael J. Anderson, who plays the dwarf in a red suit (“the man from another place”) mentions a moment where David Lynch, during the course of filming a scene says something like, “So that’s why I did _____!” (Lynch was referring to something in an earlier scene already filmed.) Anderson found it mind-blowing that Lynch was discovering after the fact why he did something, but I don’t find that surprising at all.
Gaspar Noe, the director/genius behind Enter the Void has the worldview you would expect from a French filmmaker: atheist/existentialist/post-modernist/bleak materialist with the stereotypical grim (void) view of human existence, etc. Inevitably, his conscious view of his film has to work within the box of that silly, archaic, depressive weltanschauung,
But the film itself has depths that go light-years and dimensions beyond the little post-modernist box, which is a container too laughably small to contain any encompassing vision of human existence.
OK, so now that I have firmly established myself as a greater authority on Gaspar Noe’s film than Gaspar Noe, we can take off Jean-Paul Sartre’s myopic spectacles and enter Enter the Void, where we will discover that there isn’t a void of course, but many layers of priceless content rich with meanings.
But now I feel like I’ve exhausted myself with the need for all those preliminaries, the sun is starting to come up and I like to write predawn and no longer have the mental energy to figure out how to write about this film in any organized way. Since this film is nonlinear and surreal anyway, maybe I’ll just void the organization and allow myself to rapidly fly above and through my flickering memories of the film, flashback to various thoughts, projections and meanings that sparked in my mind when I saw it, and take the first-person point of view on the film you might expect from someone who has very recently ingested a fatal bullet from a Japanese policeman’s handgun (a very potent, single-use hallucinogen, though you should always consult with your physician before imbibing Japanese police handgun bullets, red (but not blue) capsules or any other such potently mood-altering substances).
I’m inside my tiny Tokyo apartment, irradiated by iridescent neon lights coming through sliding glass balcony doors, the horrible burnt ping pong ball taste of DMT is searing my 20-year-old lungs, and suddenly—rupture of plane! rupture of plane!—
I’m falling into/through the DMTverse, and into hyperdimensional lattices of Celtically interwoven triple helix wormhole sorts of things and I’m smoking enough DMT to kill a half dozen Terence Mckennas, but can still deal with a cool, Neo Tokyo cell phone, I’m liminal, liminal, liminal zone, I’m an adolescent, I’m an American but live in neon, almost extraterrestrial Tokyo, so I’m between and betwixt, between and betwixt on every level, childhood/adulthood, stoned/straight, life/death. I’m phasing in and out of the DMTverse and the oedipal tragedy I’m playing out with my fellow mammals. I’m intensely alive and young but hurtling toward imminent death. I’m a metamorphosing mammal and I’m driven by sex, breasts, licking and sucking, suckling as an infant, the body of another mammal my first food source, playing out primal energies and raw emotions in messy dramas with other mammals, promises and betrayals, seductions, corruptions, exploitations, a flickering, fugitive life, and—
I’m shot! I’m shot! Shot dead in the toilet!
And now I’m rising and expanding and I am a kaleidoscopic revelation of cascading primal mammalian moments—raw emotion, violence, orgasm, birth, death, and now I can go anywhere and see into any facet of the traumatic, eerily beautiful, phantasmagoria of my mammalian incarnation and all the mammalian timelines extending off of it and I see the primal energies exchanged between mammals, I see that casual sex was a complete delusion because it is is a merging of primal, essential energies and what seemed casual is interwoven with tragic magic and death. I was an oedipal mammalian boy looking for mama’s breast, seeking to return to the womb through DMT and mammalian sex tragedy and wherever I see far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures like the gas jets in Victor’s apartment or a vortex of water spiraling down a drain, I am drawn in, pulled toward all such dynamic structures, they are like irresistible orifices that my oedipal mammalian passions are drawn to with savage magnetism because they are microcosms of what I am, what any mammal or disembodied spirit is, for we are all far-from-equilibrium dissipative structures, and these far-from-equilibrium dissipative orifices are portals, portals through death and the DMTverse and I’m seeing that everything is inside, inside, and the deeper in you go the bigger it gets, and everything I thought I saw when I was a foolish, living mammal was a neurological construct, and there is no single reference reality, there is a kaleidoscopic cascade of myriad realities and in one of them this weird French guy is making a movie about me, but why the fuck is he talking about a void? There is no void! There is an explosion of content, more than I could ever have imagined when I was oedipal mammal boy, and these dramas and tragedies I sleepwalked through—there was so much at stake, so much more meaning and feeling than I ever realized, and me and all my friends and this French guy didn’t get it, sex isn’t a casual pleasure or exploitive opportunity, it’s alchemical and life-changing. How could we have been so blind? Why didn’t we realize that blinded sex is Oedipal tragic magic? Why didn’t we realize what was at stake, what was at stake in life, why did we live inside the neon cage of the mammalian sex hotel? Inside the sex hotel, inside every room primal energies and tragic magic alchemy going on but they don’t know it, don’t know, they think they are just any mammal but they are not just any mammal, they are the most interior of mammals and interiority is where the whole life force of the planet was going, from slime to cephalization when organisms started to have heads and therefore interior space, the inner neurological simulacrum of the outer, and that drive led up to human beings, and our birth hurt the woman so much so that we could have bigger heads, so we could be more interior, more self-aware, and that led to the French guy, to a movie where everything is inside my head, where everything that seems outer is inner, and that’s the main drive of evolution only the French guy didn’t get it. The guy with the alchemical website, rocking back and forth in his chair channeling me, he gets it, there is no void! There is an explosion of interior content, why does Gaspar think he needs actors, and sets and lights and dialogues and CGI if there is a void? It’s the opposite of a void, wake up Gaspar, wake up and don’t smell the dismal cappuccino of French existentialism, wake up and smell the explosion of novelty you’ve evoked in your film, how could you call that a void? Spending time in the mammalian sex hotel can make you feel like a void, but ultimate reality is an explosion of content and meaning. But it’s OK, it’s OK, Gaspar, I forgive you, Gaspar, for not knowing what you yourself have wrought, because I didn’t know either, didn’t realize what was at stake, there were moments when I almost knew, when I said to Linda that it would be good to have a goal, but we didn’t have goals, I was oedipal mammal boy and didn’t have access to the higher masculine, was just adrift in the carnival of lost souls with other mammals who also didn’t know their higher nature and now I see that there are secrets here, secrets in the neon sex hotel—I know I have seen this hotel before, where I have I seen it before?
Oh my God, my God, I know where I have seen it before, this was a model, a florescent painted model that glowed phosphorescently under the black lights when Alex and his friend showed it to me, and that means that I have created the Sex Hotel here, created it out of the product of someone else’s imagination, and that means, that means I am the opposite of a void, I am a subcreator, a subcreator, a weaver of realities, a subcreator! And now I can go, I can phase out of this neon movie if I want and I can go then, because there are other worlds than these…
Note added: January 16, 2012 Just saw Enter the Void agan with a young friend who has been going through his own struggles with the tragic magic of human mammalian karma. Fortunately, his struggle is much more conscious than that of Alex, the protagonist and extreme first person point of view of the film.
I forgot just how traumatic watching this movie can be. Now the self-promoting description of a couple of things I wrote (which appeared at the end of this sort-of review, where this appended note is appearing), little stories about leaving the body at death, seems a bit unseemly. The self-promotion aspect of it., but not the stories. Now it seems a garish intrusion of ego in this ego death sort of film. I’ll leave that part in anyway, since the stories are still very relevant, and I haven’t entirely let go of the will toward self-promotion even after seeing this film. I also want to add a link to something I wrote about Near-Death Experience and what people have learned from it: Life Lessons from the Living Dead. Reading this document may give a glimpse into the non-void that people experience when they leave their bodies.
Finally, something I noticed this viewing, that seems to stand out in sharp relief, is the ever-so-leaky boundaries of incarnating in the Babylon Matrix. One way we experience this during the course of the film is that we are so often in crowded, undersized Tokyo rooms with ambient sound spilling in from floor, ceiling, walls and windows. The place where I currently live, and where I saw this movie, is like that, with creaky floor boards above my head that transmit the sound of strangers walking in the apartment above me. I heard actual floor boards creaking at the same time that Alex in his cramped Tokyo apartment was hearing them. I find the intrusion of the sounds of other people living above my head to be toxic, nearly intolerable. It’s an invasion of the sovereign domain of my inner space, the unwanted intrusion of hominid-generated noise pollution. The next place I live, if I can possibly help it, will not have people living above my head. Our planet recently reached a population of seven billion, and the density and intrusiveness of the teeming social matrix can easily become overbearing and nearly intolerable to an extreme introvert like myself who needs to be able to isolate my interior space for introspection, creativity, etc. On one level, a foolishly literal and superficial level, you could say that the intrusion of ambient sound (which even invades Alex’s DMT trip as cacophony of voices phasing in and out) is a bit of verisimilitude about the claustrophobia of living in Tokyo on a budget. But I feel it is much more than that. Alex lives in a world of leaky boundaries. He is a liminal figue who takes powerful boundary dissolving substances while in shady, socially dense environments. And Alex and his sister have tragically leaky sexual boundaries which lead to oedipal tragedies and abortion. Alex experiences the rupture of boundaries when he smokes DMT, when he leaves his body at death, and when, as a spirit, he seems to pass into the body of his sister’s lover as she is reaching orgasm. Alex experiences the transcendance of boundaries, but also the degradation that is invited by having leaky boundaries while immersed in shady cross-sections of the social matrix.
My interest in writing about the psyche leaving the body at death didn’t begin with picking on Gaspar Noe. I wrote two such pieces twenty-five years ago, one a brief experimental piece I wrote while I was in the NYU graduate creative writing program: Corridor. The other one, Johnny, is much more Enter the Void like in that it is a montage of flashbacks experienced by a fatally wounded inner city kid. It was also written in the Eighties when I knew a lot about that subject as I was teaching in the South Bronx. This place and time was ground zero for the hip-hop explosion. Grand Master Flash came from my high school, and I was especially close to some of the more talented graffiti writers (they called themselves “writers”). I knew Keith Haring and the Fun Gallery was right across the street from where I lived in the East Village, so I was able to help some of the young graffiti writers get their work shown. This story was published in Long Shot (http://www.longshot.org/), a literary journal edited by my friend and fellow teacher in the South Bronx, Danny Shot. Allen Ginsberg, who lived a block away in the East Village, was a contributor. He has a poem, “On the Conduct of the World Seeking Beauty Against Government” in the very issue that “Johnny” was in—Volume 6.
Finally, I borrowed the phrase “tragic magic” from my friend Rob Brezsny, who has written the definitive counter pole to the stagnant, only-dark-is-cool, post-modernist view: Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower you with Blessings Read my review: Is the World Spiraling Toward Eucatastrophe of is that just my Pronoia?