6.9 I Stand Alone (1998)
7.3 Irreversible (2002)
7.8 Enter the Void (2009)
6.1 Love (2015)
6.8 Climax (2018)
7.2 Vortex (2021)
Gaspar Noe (Argentina, 1963), who moved to France as a teenager, debuted with
Seul Contre Tous/ I Stand Alone (1998),
a sequel to his short film Carne (1991).
His nihilism fully emerged in the psychological thriller Irreversible (2002). Not only does it describe violence in excruciating details (for example, a rape in a ten-minute scene), but it also implies that all men are rapists and killers. The plot revolves around three men each of which is shown capable of extreme violence. The titled hints at the irreversibility of time, but that plays two roles. First and foremost, it is about the irreversibility of the damage caused by (male) violence. Even if the victim survives (which we are not told), she will obviously never be the same, neither psychologically nor physically. Life goes on for the survivors, but the damage caused by that life is irreversible. Secondly, "irreversible" is the way the film is shown: backwards in time. A film that plays forward can have an infinite number of outcomes: it is about what still has to happen, which is unknown until it happens. A film that shows what happened before is about what already happened, what is already carved in time.
The film is told backwards, like Harold Pinter's play "Betrayal" (1978) or Christopher Nolan's film Memento (2000). It is not a narrative puzzle like Memento because the narrative is linear, just backwards, and there is no ambiguity as to what happened: we just have to wait for it to be shawn. Each scene makes sense only after we start seeing the next one. The effect is to replace the tension due to the possibility of something happening with the tension caused by knowing what happened. We already know at the beginning that a man was killed and a woman was raped, although we are clueless about the connection between these two facts. When we actually see the woman being raped and the man being killed we experience a different kind of drama: not the shock and disappointment but the revulsion caused by the actual act. Told backwards, the film doesn't build up tension, it releases it. It makes the spectator more rational and less emotional. Instead of focusing on what can happen next, the spectator focuses on what could have prevented what happens next (he should have been nicer to her, she should not have ventured into a dark tunnel dressed so sexy). The spectator watches the film with hindsight, not suspense. On the other hand, it is only at the very end that we appreciate the magnitude of the drama, the ironic fate of the woman, because it is only at the end that we understand what was special about that day for her.
The camera moves hysterically, even flies in the sky, even seems to cross the walls that separate rooms, like some kind of supernatural witness and narrator of the story. The camera stands still only when showing the rape.
Police seal off the entrance of the "Rectum". An ambulance carries out a young man (Marcus) whose arm has been broken, whose arm has been broken. A big man (Mourad) is cursing the wounded man, calling him all sorts of names. The police drags out another man, handcuffed (Pierre). Another man (Layde) who has not being allowed to enter the scene is shouting that they have been made fools for the whole neighborhood and they still want to be paid. The police loads a silent Pierre in a van, while the ambulance takes away an unconscious Marcus.
Flashback. The camera moves around the Rectum, showing the sadomaso rituals that are going on in each dark room. Two young men that we recognize as the one who got arrested and the one who got hospitalized, Pierre and Marcus, enter the club. Marcus is extremely furious, Pierre tries to stop him. Marcus wants revenge. He is after a man called La Tenia. Marcus walks around asking where he can find La Tenia. Pierre tries to pull him out. When finally a man says that he knows La Tenia, Marcus starts torturing him because he wants to be taken to this La Tenia. When he thinks that he has found La Tenia, Marcus starts beating him ferociously. The man, however, appears to be a bodyguard or bouncer and eventually breaks Marcus' arm and even tries to sodomize him in front of the crowd of silent gays that has assembled around them. To save Marcus, Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher and hits the assailant once. Then again, then again, until he crushed his skull. There's a man watching half-amused, the man who was chatting with the bodyguard when they arrived. All the other gays watch silently, don't talk, don't try to stop him.
Flashback. Marcus is driving and Pierre is sitting next to him in a taxi. Pierre tries to calm down Marcus who is headed for the Rectum. Pierre wants to go see Alex at the hospital. (At this point we don't know anything about this Alex). To get Pierre to follow him, Marcus destroys the windshield of the taxi.
Flashback. Pierre and Marcus are traveling in the back of a taxi driven by a Chinese. Marcus is extremely upset and insults the Chinese, who eventually tells them to get off. Pierre instead steals the taxi and heads for the Rectum.
Flashback. Four men are walking in a street popular with Spanish prostitutes. Marcus is leading, shouting that he wants revenge. Pierre is trying in vain to calm him down. The two men who follow them (Mourad and Layde) want money. They interrogate the Spanish whores looking to find a man called Guillermo. They tell the prostitutes that someone got raped and this Guillermo is a witness to the rape. They finally found Guillermo: he's a transvenstite who works as a prostitute on that street. He shows them his penis to prove it. He tells them to look for La Tenia at the club Rectum. As Marcus beats Guillermo, the whores chase them away.
Flashback. Cops interrogate Pierre about what happened during a party. The victim used to live with Pierre. Pierre is stone-faced, cannot even speak. A big man (Mourad) and his friend (Layde) approach Marcus and Pierre and tell them that the authorities cannot be trusted with bringing justice to the victim. Mourad tells them that they should get their own revenge and offers to help track down the criminal who did it in return for money. Pierre doesn't think it's a good idea but Marcus is angry and desperate and accepts. Mourad and Layde found a purse with an id where the crime was committed: the name is Guillermo.
Flashback. Pierre and Marcus leave a party and overhear that a whore got raped. Initially they don't pay attention but then Marcus sees an unconscious woman, her face horribly disfigured, being taken to the ambulance in a stretcher. He tells the nurses that she is his girlfriend and they tell him that she is in a coma.
Flashback. An elegant, sexy woman tries to summon a taxi. A prostitute tells her to take the underpass to the other side of the street. Inside the tunnel the elegant woman witnesses a man beating Guillermo. Guillermo asks for help and then runs away. Then the man (the real La Tenia, not the one killed by Pierre at the club) turns to the high-class woman who cries for help in Italian. She begs him in vain. He sodomizes her (shown in excruciting detail) and then, as she tries to crawl away, he slams her head against the floor until she looks dead. (Now we finally know who Alex is and what happened to her and why Marcus is angry. We also know that Pierre killed the wrong man as La Tenia is the man who was watching half-amused).
Flashback. Marcus and Pierre are at a party. Marcus is flirting with all the girls and making fun of the stiff and boring Pierre, an intellectual. Marcus drags Pierre into a dressing room and kisses two girls, while Pierre reminds him that his girl Alex is dancing alone in another room. Marcus sniffs cocaine. Pierre keeps reminding him that he is neglecting his girlfriend Alex. Alex, in fact, is dancing in the other room, mainly with girls. Alex is the girl raped in the tunnel. Marcus complains with Alex that Pierre is boring. Alex and Pierre are old lovers. Alex eventually gets ashamed of Marcus' behavior and decides to go home. She walks out after saying bye to Pierre who clearly still worships her.
Flashback. Pierre, Marcus and Alex are in the metro, chatting mainly about their sex lives. Alex never had an orgasm with Pierre but she does with the ape-like Marcus and the cool intellectual Pierre keeps asking for a rational explanation. She also mentions that the future is shown in dreams.
Flashback. Marcus and Alex wake up naked in bed. Pierre calls that his car broke down and tells them that they will have to take the metro. Alex tells Marcus that she dreamed of being in a tunnel. She also tells him that her period is a few days later, which could mean that she is pregnant. Later in the bathroom she uses a pregnancy test and finds out that she is indeed pregnant but doesn't tell Marcus. (We actually will never know who the father is, since she just broke up with Pierre).
Flashback. Alex holds her belly sitting on the bed under a poster of Kubrick's film 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). The camera flies in the sky and shows Alex relaxing in a park. She is reading a book while children play in the grass. (Presumably, this is what she dreamed because waking up on that fateful day).
The English-language Enter the Void (2009) is a supernatural thriller filmed using a hand-held camera that also becomes a flying camera, with many of the scenes filmed from above. We rarely see the face of the protagonist, who is almost always filmed from behind his back. We see his face only when he is staring at a mirror or when he's dead. On the other hand, we see a lot of the film from his perspective, whether he's alive or is a flying ghost or is being reincarnated into a newborn baby. The film is also a love story of sorts, about the unbreakable love between two siblings that extends beyond one's death thanks to reincarnation.
Meanwhile, Linda is working as a stripper at the "Sex Money Pioneer". The camera shows the strippes from above. The club's owner, Mario, and Linda walk into her dressing room and having sex. When Mario leaves, she picks up the phone and hears the message that Alex left about what just happened: Oscar has been killed. She cries. The camera flickers and moves away. And a long flashback begins that tells the story of Oscar and Linda. We see pictures and videoclips of when they were children and teenagers; of her playing with Oscar, of a family at the beach, etc. Then suddenly a car crash in which their parents get killed. Oscar and Linda are sent to different foster homes. They swear eternal love to each other and she screams when she is separated from him. Oscar, now a young man, moves to Tokyo where he meets two Westerners: Alex, who introduces him to the gay drug dealer Bruno, who is always surrounded by stoned boys, and Victor, who introduces him to his parents. Victor is seduced by Victor's mother, who used to be a go-go dancer in a night-club. A flashback within the flashback shows their mother promising Oscar to watch him from the sky after she dies. Oscar is soon introduced to a world of drugs and sexy girls. One day he calls Linda with the news that he has a job and an apartment, and has saved enough money to buy a ticket for her to join him. Alex tells Oscar that dying would be the ultimate "trip" (drug trip) and describes his out-of-body experience. Linda arrives. He takes around Tokyo and she kisses him passionately. Their relationship is borderline incestuous. But he still has nightmares of the car accident and the funeral, and of their traumatic separation as orphans. Linda is happy that they are family again but she too is still haunted by the death of their parents. Oscar and Alex take her to a club, "Maniac", she gets high and drunk. Alex warns Oscar that she's too attractive. She meets Japanese impresario Mario who offers her a job. In all these scenes we see Oscar only from behind his back. At home, a semi-naked Linda chats with Oscar and tells him that she found a job as a stripper for the nightclub owned by Mario. Oscar threatens Mario if he ever touches her. Oscar gets money from Bruno to fund more drugs. He even sells drugs to Linda's coworkers, with whom Linda seems to have lesbian relationships, but Mario sees him and threatens to kill him if he does it again. One night Oscar gets angry that she didn't come home at night. He is jealous. Bruno gets him addicted to more and more powerful drugs. One day Victor shows up furious: he has found out that Oscar slept with his mother. The flashback reaches the day of the killing. Now we see the first scene again, in which Oscar and Linda are chatting on the balcony and she tells him that she is scared of dying, but this time the camera is placed behind the back of Oscar, so we can see that he is there but we can't see his face. Then he and Alex walk again to the Void, Victor says that he is sorry (and now we know why: he is sorry he turned him over to the cops), Oscar locks himself in the bathroom stall and gets shot. The camera leaves the stall where Oscar lies dying and flies high through the roof of the building over the city. Linda recognizes him at the morgue and then his body is cremated. We see the procedure in excruciating detail. Back at the apartment, Linda burns all Oscar's drugs. The camera flies again over the city to the police station where the cops are interrogating Victor and are looking for Alex. Alex is sleeping in the streets. The camera flies to the strip club. Then Linda gets pregnant. Bruno, also afraid of being arrested, destroys his stash of drugs too. Victor confronts angrily his mother for sleeping with his best friends and is kicked out by his father, who obviously is a very weak man. Linda gets an abortion (also shown in excruciating detail). The camera keeps flying over the city. Alex, still in hiding, calls his housemate for money and jacket. Linda indulges in lesbian love and tells Mario that she feels that Oscar is around her. Linda dreams the scene at the morgue from Oscar's viewpoint, and then she dreams that Oscar resurrects but, while Mario is driving her away, she doesn't want this new Oscar, whom she finds repellent. In her dream Oscar stares at himself in the mirror just like he did before walking to the Void. In her dream she sees Alex scribbling on a pillar "I Want 2 Die" with a charred stick. Alex doesn't want her company and insults her. Linda wakes up and tells Mario that she dreams Oscar's resurrection. She blames the ashes and flushes them down the sink. The camera flies over the city. Alex gets jacket and money from his housemate. Victor walks to Linda's apartment to apologize for causing Oscar's death, but she doesn't let him in and tells him to kill himself. He tells her that it is also her fault and these words haunt her. She cries, comforted by Mario in her messy apartment, and she says "I just wanna die". The camera flies high above the city and enters an airplane, where Oscar's mother breast-feeds a baby Oscar. The camera flies away and zooms on a taxi. Linda and Alex are together. Linda experiences again the car crash in which her parents died, the children screaming in back seat. The camera follows the taxi flying over over the street. They take a room in the "Love Motel". The camera flies from room to room showing us (for several minutes) all the couples who are having sex. Each man emits a psychedelic glow from his crotch. The camera flies over the city: it is night, and the city looks like a show of psychedelic lights. The camera then lands on the Love Motel, entering the room where Linda and Alex are having sex. The camera becomes Alex's eyes and shows us what he sees as he is making love to Linda. Then we see a baby being born to Oscar's mother while child Linda is playing nearby (the logic of this scene is not clear, as Oscar was born before Linda, not after). The camera stands back and then enters Linda's vagina, where we can see Alex's penis moving in and out and eventually releasing the semen, with an almost documentary rendition of a spermatozoon hitting the egg. After a few seconds of black screen, we hear the moaning of a mother giving birth. The birth is shown from the eyes of the new born baby, a blurred scene because the baby doesn't have good eyes yet (but it also means that we can't see the face of the mother clearly, although presumably it's Linda and her baby is a reincarnated Oscar).
Climax (2018) is vastly inferior to his two masterpieces. Noe's style has become more conventional, and the plot is relatively trivial, a thriller with few thrills, a "whodunit" in which the identity of the "killer" is not really what matters because the story has already implied that the fate of the characters was sealed by their past.