The first question that Enter the Void (2009) brings to mind is: where has Gaspar Noé’s Carne (1991), the flesh, disappeared? The brain is the flesh. To paraphrase Annette Michelson dealing with the fight between men (re-viewers/opinioncrats) and boys (directors of “gloriously redundant” works) in connection to the omnipresent reference of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968): Enter the Void has separated the “aunties” from the boys – with implications by no means flattering for the “aunties”. It is not unsubtle, it is anti-subtle. In an era when every Hollywood movie is a teenage movie, Noé sets off into the same meta-genre. The affinity to narcovisions (“I have the feeling that James Cameron has taken some of the same drugs I did.”), the affinity to liquid neon, yet the reduction of the blue, not exclusively colouristic, and the insertion of impurity/opacity into the crystal. Enter the Void is, one could say, the red pill (though at the same time sufficiently magenta), red pulsation of the Love Hotel, more burlesque than orgiastic (as if it were a confirmation of Henri Laborit’s words from Alain Resnais’  1980 film Mon oncle dAmérique (we, our nervous system, are the others), the reenactment of “man’s last motel stop on the journey towards disembodiment and renascence” prolonged to Sadean intensities.

Cinema of the brain or cinema of the brainless? There is no dilemma: this is a film of a given time at the level of technology, of a given moment of the thought and the unthought. As Artaud-Deleuze would say: the powerlessness at the heart of thought. (Which also applies to this attempt at a text.) It forces one to finally endure Deleuze’s Time-Image – this anticipation of everything that has/will come, to even a higher degree of that which distinguishes itself precisely for being “something possible” – which reads like the source material-screenplay of Enter the Void, its prologue already being the Movement-Image, where it situates itself at the junction of Dziga Vertov and American experimental film. Beyond the solid and the liquid, the gaseous stage of the image is achieved, beyond flowing (time as river – the irriversible), beyond human. Drugs have been traditionally in the service of such perception. Anecdotally, when Pauline Kael complained about John Huston’s adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano for not enabling the viewer to see anything of what an ex-consul is perceiving through his alco-holistic regime, she is demanding the trip of Enter the Void. And yet she would, overly attached to the “auntieness” of her opinion, most likely reject it, just like 2001, just like Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982). “Trash masquerading as art” sounds so very time-sick. When was the last time one could distinguish between the two?

If Bergson-Deleuze defines the brain as an interval, a void between a stimulation and a response, then entering this volcano, this void, is the same as entering the brain, the basal ganglia of which are the cerebral back-to-back of Resnais&Kubrick, Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty inspired by the East, and Andrei Bely’s “cerebral game” in his novel Petersburg.

CORTEX. Noé, shuffling between the butcher, the surgeon and the medicine man, rummages through the brain, just like Artaud, he wants to effect the cortex directly, physiologically (pulsating, flickering montage, out-of-focus effect) in order to achieve epilepsy, which is a vision. “Back in the camps some people saw magnetic waves.” Or go down the spinal cord and cause syphilitic tabes dorsalis, the curvature of the sensory-motor apparatus (symptoms: so-called lightning pains, lack of patellar reflex, ataxia, loss of coordination, optic nerve atrophy, stomach cramps, vomiting…) that is also troubling the suckling senator in Petersburg. The sound is something that – past the air strings – is coming deep from the ground, the ocean, the body. Not the washing, but the submerging, the Great Flood of the electrified brain. The revaluation of passive watching, in which Artaud-Deleuze discovers the dark glory of cinema: the protagonist/viewer “has become incapable of achieving his thoughts”, (1) “he is reduced to only seeing a parade of images within him, an excess of contradictory images”, his “spirit has become stolen”.

VORTEX. Noé’s film – taking a cue from Michael Snow’s La région central (Central Region, 1971) or 2001, where the astronaut is snipped off into the coffin of the universe (a leash as oxygen & coordination) – is able to detach oneself from the vertical axis, thus becoming vortical. Yet entering the Void still imposes a sense of being blocked, immobile, paralyzed. The stammering of space, looped roaming from focal point to focal point, one of the central portals being Adam’s undestined/unborn button – bellybutton. The spirit/gas has nowhere to go to in regard to extensity, only intensities are in play. Noé’s Tokyo, the epicentre of the “Mongol cause” of chaos according to Bely, is Petersburg: “All Petersburg is the infinity of a prospect raised to the power of n. While beyond Petersburg there is – nothing.” It is a “mathematical point”, it exists on maps, Google maps, overflown by helicopters like it was a matter of scrolling. The screen/plane as a table of information, “cerebral membrane where immediate and direct confrontations take place between the past and the future, the inside and the outside, at a distance impossible to determine, independent of any fixed point […] The image no longer has space and movement as its primary characteristics but topology and time.” The Time-Image that destroys everything? No, but it destroys the whole.

VERTEX. Noé’s opus keeps on returning into the tunnel/corridor, in which Goethe’s red, its reflection, is pulsating, and against which blood is nothing, or, at least a mere posteriority. A corridor, hollowed out through the head, cinema set free from the film stock (although Noé – supposedly in the name of the flesh – does not abandon it; there are no flashbacks, there are “fleshbacks”), projector, screen, camera, eyes. To drill new conditions of seeing. Not with the eyes, but with the centre of the head. Enter the Void is Noé’s Mirror, in which a gaping vertex throbs/breathes, evoking the words of Petersburg: “Sometimes (not always) before the very last moment of daytime consciousness, Apollon Apollonovich, as he went to sleep, would notice that all the threads, all the stars, forming a bubbling vortex, made a corridor that ran away into immeasurable distance and (what was most surprising) he would feel that this corridor began from his head, i.e. it, the corridor, was an infinite extension of his own head, the crown of which suddenly opened – an extension into immeasurable distance; thus the old senator, before going to sleep, received the most strange impression that he was looking not with his eyes, but with the very centre of his head, i.e. he, Apollon Apollonovich, was not Apollon Apollonovich but something that had lodged in his brain and was looking out of there, out of his brain; when the crown of his head opened up this something was able both freely and simply to run along the corridor until a point where it plunged into the abyss that was revealed there, far away down the corridor.”

Through vertex to the abysmal darkness of the before-?, after-?, beyond?-life, which gapes in an interval from one thought to another. Darkness that is made out of snowflakes (Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)), corpuscles/feathers (Resnais’ L’amour à mort (1984)), darkness that is the stroboscopic white. Beyond dreaming, despite Noé’s declarations, all the way to the indistinguishableness or, more fatelessly, oneness of sleep and sleeplessness, life and death, flesh and thought.

Translated by Urša Kozic

Endnote

  1. Or as Walter Benjamin cites (cinema’s detractor) Georges Duhamel in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’: “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.”