Gaspar Noé is no stranger to controversy, as 2002’s “Irreversible” — and, specifically, its nine-minute single-take depiction of violent rape — firmly established his reputation as a boundary-pushing provocateur. Almost a decade later, he returns to feature filmmaking with this week’s extravagant “Enter the Void,” a similarly audacious work about a teenage drug dealer’s (Nathaniel Brown) post-death experiences as a ghost watching over his stripper sister (Paz de la Huerta) in neon-lit Tokyo.
Utilizing multiple points of view, immersing itself in extended “2001”-style drug hallucinations, and offering up a mélange of sex, violence, spirituality, philosophy and one unbearably harrowing car crash sequence, it’s a film that risks being silly in search of the sublime, and thus provokes unlike anything else this cinematic awards season will have to offer. Shortly after introducing the longer original version of the film at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, Noé spoke about the reasons for creating different cuts, the project’s film noir ancestry, and the illicit substances that most inspired him.
Why the extended layoff between “Enter the Void” and “Irreversible”?
In the case of this one, it was because the movie is quite expensive (as you might have guessed), and because it took a long time to shoot it — there are many, many scenes in the movie, and many things that required a crane and/or visual effects. And also because the movie was not only sexually explicit and very experimental, but also because it’s so full of visual effects that it could not be done for cheap. All these things, plus the fact that we didn’t have famous actors, made the movie kind of hard to finance. Of course, after “Irreversible,” I was proposed many scripts by different producers, but I was really waiting to do this feature, which I had in my mind before “Irreversible.” So I was saying no to many other proposals. I was sticking to my original will.
At the end, Wild Bunch, who had been taking care of the world sales of “Irreversible,” decided to put the money in, and they introduced me to Fidélité, the other company that produced the movie. And also BUF, who did the visual effects, decided to co-produce the movie. So after a few years of waiting, I had the greenlight. Since that moment until now, for four years, I’ve been working almost every day on the movie, and now I’m working on the DVD extras, and I’ve been doing the promotion since last year.
The movie was finished for the first time just before Sundance. The copy that was shown in Cannes last year was a work-in-progress on high-definition, but at the time it was not finished at all.
A 137-minute cut of the film will be released theatrically here in the States, but there’s a longer version (which I saw at Lincoln Center in August) which clocks in at 160 minutes. What compelled you to also assemble a director’s cut?
Actually, it’s nothing like a director’s cut. There’s one cut that was my original cut — that’s the version that has been released in France and now in Germany, and almost all over Europe. But I signed a contract saying that if the movie went over 2 hours and 20 minutes, I had to deliver a shorter version. So I found a solution that we could pull out a whole 17-minute segment toward the end of the movie, and the movie would still work. I reedited the negative lab rolls in a way that the movie was made up of nine reels, but you could pull out reel number seven, and go directly from reel six to reel eight. Actually, that particular reel doesn’t have anything controversial. It starts just after the abortion scene, and ends when the sister is throwing the ashes in the sink. Mainly what you miss is that whole part of the movie where he [Nathaniel Brown’s Oscar] wakes up at the morgue and thinks he’s alive, but they tell him no, you’re just dreaming.
I reconnect with both versions. The shorter version was just a request from the American distributor. And in England, they’re going to release both. They think it’s maybe going to be more commercial, and also people might enjoy the reduced version and then might want to see the extended version, which is the original version, on VOD or on DVD. Sometimes having two versions makes it even more commercial because people who like it want to see both.
I know in France, they proposed to me, “Why don’t we release the shorter version in France and then put the director’s cut on DVD?” I said no, it’s not the director’s cut. But I want the two versions to come to DVD. And in France, it’s the opposite. On the DVD, we’re going to add the shorter version as a bonus.
Did “Irreversible”‘s controversial reputation, and the fact that “Enter the Void” also features explicit material, make it easier or harder to get the new film made?
The fact is that “Irreversible” was a commercial success. And today, the only reason I could start “Enter the Void” was because of the commercial success of “Irreversible.” I don’t know how this one is going to do in the long term. What people like and some other people don’t like about this one is that it’s more conceptual and more experimental. But I don’t think it’s controversial at all. The controversy that comes from this movie deals mostly with some visual effects or sound effects that put you in an altered state of perception. It’s not so much about the images that are contained, but how they play with your senses.
The best and worst response I got from the movie is that when you come out, you feel stoned. And people who like being stoned enjoy the movie, and people who don’t do drugs or don’t drink alcohol dislike the movie because they feel like someone has been playing with their mind.
Were there any particular drugs that influenced the film’s hallucinogenic sequences?
Most movies created with drugs are mostly conceived with cocaine, speed or opiates. Then there are a few movies that have been trying hard to reproduce what an altered state of consciousness under mushrooms is like. But I’d say 99.9% of the movies fail because it’s really hard. Since I’ve been thinking about the project, each time I would see a psychedelic movie, or each time I would smoke or whatever, I would try to think about how it could be done in a better way, and how it could be done in a more accurate way. To transcribe those experiences into a flat screen.
Some people who’ve been doing DMT complained to me that the DMT scenes are getting close [to the actual experience], but at the same time very far, because the actual patterns one sees are more geometrical, and that they move much faster than those in the film. But it’s hard, it’s really hard. I’ve tried my best, but I guess in many ways Kenneth Anger got closer to an LSD experience with “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” or Jordan Belson with his short films than I got with this one. This one is more of a narrative movie trying to play with the senses.