Two films by Gaspar Noé:
Seul contre tous / I Stand Alone (1998)
Enter the Void (2009)
Enter the Brain
I Stand Alone allows unfiltered access to the inner thoughts of a jobless butcher (Philippe Nahon) whereas Enter the Void visually depicts images that are circulating in a soul’s memory bank. The differing method of words vs images in the two films drives each film’s presentation and style. I Stand Alone is packed with words due to a constant stream of thoughts that bounce around inside the butcher’s head. He does not talk much to others but since he is always thinking, the film is never short on words. On the other hand, most of Enter the Void is from the perspective of Oscar’s (Nathaniel Brown) soul, who can only observe people. The camera accordingly allows the audience to see what his soul is seeing, so the film is short on dialogue and the only words that filter through are bits of conversation Oscar’s soul can make out. The camera also dips inside his brain and as a result, the audience visually sees the memories that are getting triggered. This perspective also explains the repetitious scenes of Oscar’s parents accident that are shown in the film. A human being often thinks of certain situations over and over again, which means the same thought is recirculated in the brain usually with similar associated images and feelings. Oscar is haunted by the death of his parents and cannot forget that tragedy, so he is often thinking of that accident. His thoughts may initially drift off in different directions but no matter what path his memories take, the destination is always the car in which his parents were killed.
Enter the Void
Near the end of I Stand Alone, the butcher wants to enter a void by ending his life but he manages to stay in the real world. However, in Enter the Void Oscar literally enters a void (via a different route than what the butcher intended) and also manages to re-emerge from that void. Interestingly, a tiny spliced shot in I Stand Alone shows a birth but that birth does not take place until the ending of Enter the Void.
The end is just the beginning
Commercial cinema is never short on happy endings but incredibly, Gaspar Noe also provides a happy ending in all three of his features albeit with a slight deviation. Irreversible moves backwards and ends on a calm note as all the brutality and ugliness is shown long before the end. Enter the Void also ends on a positive note when a birth is meant to signify a new beginning. At first it looks like I Stand Alone will end on a miserable note but the audience is given a 30 second warning to leave the theater if they want to avoid seeing any violence. For those that stay, the film shows the butcher succumbing to the demons inside his head and falling to the lowest depth imaginable. However, it turns out that evil act was just in his imagination and the camera pulls out of his brain to show that some form of morality still exists.
However, getting to the ending in all these films is anything but a pleasant experience. Irreversible has two segments (fire extinguisher & the rape scene) which cause discomfort while Enter the Void shows an immoral world of drugs, sex and corruption where happiness is always out of reach. I Stand Alone drags the audience through the butcher’s sickening thoughts and actions but the film also shows that society around the butcher is not that hopeful either. Poverty, joblessness and racism is rampant and one wonders how many more butchers are wandering around the streets.
Yes there is a director here
The final credits of I Stand Alone say “You have been watching a Gaspar Noe film”.
It is hard to imagine audience can ever forget his name after watching any of his features. His films cannot be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders but instead warrant a reaction of some sort, be it positive or negative. Of course, his films divide audience but one truly feels that Noe has directed his films and everything shown is as per his vision. The camera bounces around when it is needed to and if the camera is not moving, then it is stationary for a reason. Majority of Enter the Void is from the point of view of Oscar’s soul, so a hovering camera angle is essential for creating that feeling. To this effect, the film manages to sustain a floating point of view right until the end and does not take any shortcuts. The start of Irreversible features a camera that spins around giving an impression of a fly navigating around buildings before landing up inside a room to listen to the wisdom of a naked man (Philippe Nahon). However, the camera is absolutely still during the nine minute long rape sequence because that is what Noe intended. If there was any moment in the film that the camera needed to look away, it was during that sequence in the tunnel. Yet, the audience is not offered that option. In I Stand Alone quick zooms and cuts, punctuated with offscreen gunshots, point to the volatile mental state of the butcher. The butcher’s mind is working in overdrive and building up hatred for everyone around him. He cannot sit still even for a minute, is constantly agitated and often acts out the first thought that enters his brain. So the rapid fire editing gives the film an accelerated pace and highlights his restlessness.
Also credits in Noe’s films are a talking point in themselves. Irreversible features credits that run backwards and sideways while Enter the Void assaults the senses with a brightly colored credit sequence that zips by in a flash and uses various eye-catching fonts.
Personally, I think I Stand Alone is the most complete film out of the three while Enter the Void is the best directed film. Irreversible is a few notches behind the other two but it is also the film that got the most attention and ensured his other two films were accessible.