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Gaspar Noe is an asshole.
Don’t get me wrong, he is one of the most talented directors on the planet; yet, it’s his tactics that make him said asshole. Noe uses several methods of film-making to purposely make his audience uncomfortable – as if the subject matter wasn’t enough – with the cunning use of flashing, epileptic seizure-inducing full-screen light shows and the use of low frequency sounds, like 28Hz-range, to cause nausea, headaches, and vertigo – more on that later. Noe’s subject matter is that of a bleak, unforgiving world – a world where (it seems) EVERY action a protagonist makes has a negative and ripple-effect on themselves and everybody else around them – a world where the phrase “Some people are just born victims” most definitely applies. His three “main” films co-exist in this bleak world – both figuratively and literally, the start of one ties up loose ends from the previous, and there is speculation that the last two take place in the same night. His films, ‘I Stand Alone’, ‘Irreversible’, and ‘Enter the Void’ form what this writer dubs as Noe’s “Despair Trilogy” – modeled after Park Chan Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy.” Let’s take a look at each entry of this trilogy of tragic characters and even more calamitous consequences.
I Stand Alone
The first entry of this sadistic trilogy is the 1998 ‘Seul Contre Tous’ or ‘I Stand Alone’ starring Philippe Nahon as a man known only as “The Butcher.” The Butcher is hatred personified – his voice-over throughout the movie lets the viewer into his tunnel-vision seeing psyche – his hatred for humanity is seemingly fueled by his incessant need to blame the world for his problems – a prime example of external locus of control. ‘I Stand Alone’ is the tale of this Butcher as he decides he wants to start a new life – as he made too many mistakes in his past life, such as stabbing a man in the face for thinking the man raped his daughter – when in reality, she just got her first period – oops. The movie plays out as an alternate version of Joel Shumacher’s ‘Falling Down’ – the viewer sees the mental decay and break of the protagonist – and it’s quite the downward spiral.
‘I Stand Alone’ is actually a continuation to Noe’s short film, entitled ‘Carne´- a 40-minute venture into the world of the Butcher, still played by Philippe Nahon, as he runs his butcher-shop and avoids sleeping with his teenage daughter – like you do. One can find ‘Carne´HERE.
The overall feel, the aura if you will, of ‘I Stand Alone’ is just this cloud of CONSTANT depression and hatred that follows the Butcher – whether he is punching his pregnant wife in the stomach proclaiming “Your baby is hamburger meat now, ground beef! He lucked out of laying eyes on your filthy face!” or he is witnessing an elderly patient die in the hospital and pondering how pointless life is – it’s very hard to sympathize with the guy. Sure some of his incessant ranting about the ol’ Proletarians versus the Bourgeoisie can make sense, SOMETIMES, but really, his rants are on par with being friends with a goth high school kid going through a breakup on Twitter – and perhaps it is deliberate – perhaps Noe WANTS you to hate the main character, or at least constantly disagree with him, just to add to the unpleasant feeling one gets watching this movie.
This being Noe’s first feature length film, there are not too many stylistic devices used – at least compared to the next two – but we do get a wonderful throwback to William Castle’s ‘Homicidal’ when, right before a scene of heavy violence, as foreshadowed by the crescendo of scenes that led up to it, we the audience get a visual warning on the screen that the next scene will be very intense and we have so much time to leave the theater. Yea, it breaks the fourth wall, but fuck it, it’s fun – and ANY throwback to William Castle gets an automatic thumbs up from me.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of this movie, though I do appreciate it as a stepping stone into the Gaspar Noe style that we know today. You can tell the seeds have been planted with this film, yet, it’s not until we get to ‘Irreversible’ where we see the majestic growth of this beautiful flower…
‘Irreversible’ is one of those movies that carries an iron-clad badge of honor with those that have seen it – whether you love it or hate it, you cannot deny how intense the journey was. The film starts with the camera spiraling – get used to that – and the first character we see is our favorite Butcher – Philippe Nahon in a prison cell talking to his cell-mate. He reveals that he is in prison for sleeping with his daughter – yay closure to an ambiguous end! Anyways, the camera continues to spiral and we end up in a nightclub where a man is frantically looking for somebody known as Le Tenia. The scene conveys urgency and confusion – and the camera keeps rotating. After more frantic searching, Le Tenia is found (or is he?) and in one of the most memorable scenes from my youth watching extreme movies, beaten repeatedly in the face with a fire extinguisher – his face caving in more and more with each blow.
For the brave – the aforementioned scene
Why such hatred? As you follow the film’s unconventional narrative, thirteen scenes in reverse chronological order, you will learn what fuels a man to that level of hatred and rage…
Akin to Nolan’s ‘Memento’ – both in storytelling devices as well as the “twist” ending – we see the end of this tale first and work our way towards the explanation. Roger Ebert stated that “The film’s structure makes it inherently moral; that by presenting vengeance before the acts that inspire it, we are forced to process the vengeance first, and therefore think more deeply about its implications.”
‘Irreversible ‘made quite a rumble when it dropped – Newsweek wrote that this was the most walked out-of film in 2002, and reportedly three people fainted and 200 out of 2,400 people walked out during the showing at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival – BUT – was that due to subject matter – or one of Noe’s asshole-ish techniques? The first 30 minutes of the film (!) has a background noise of 28Hz – a very low frequency noise that is on par with a seismic disturbance far away which causes nausea and vertigo with many individuals – so combine that with a constantly spinning camera and a very brutal execution via fire extinguisher, you have a VERY tumultuous first act.
From a cinematography perspective – this film is a masterpiece – all the scenes were shot and digitally edited to make the entire film look like one continuous take. There are some scenes that have amazing camera-work that may be neglected by somebody who does not appreciate (or have the eye for) cinematography – watch this scene shot in AND around a taxi – watch how the camera moves seamlessly in and out of the car during all the chaos –
Beautiful work! Reminds me of another beautifully shot taxi scene in another movie…
‘Irreversible’ – like all three of Noe’s films – is not a movie to be watched for enjoyment, no, you watch it as a showcase of human emotions, to see the limits of love and pain and hatred. It’s the chaos of this film that really makes it stand out from other similar tales. The camera – OUR perspective – of everything as it unfolds – our unblinking eye witnessing atrocities – makes ‘Irreversible’ stand out as a very personal film to me. It finds a nerve deep down inside and scratches it with a rusty nail for the entire film, but alas, we aren’t done traveling down the rabbit-hole of Gaspar Noe’s career…
Enter the Void
Gaspar Noe’s most recent feature-length film is also his most cerebral – a 161 minute journey that left me speechless…
The entire film is POV (point of view) from the eyes of our protagonist, Oscar, as he experiences life, drugs – DMT, and death – think a very long version of Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ music video. Oscar, experiences one more night in the seedy underworld of Tokyo, and, sadly, gets killed by police in a messed up situation – but that is just where our journey begins…
Utilizing the same editing style we saw in ‘Irreversible,’ Noe brings back the ‘all in one shot’ approach with this film – from tripping on DMT to after death, where Oscar’s soul flies around witnessing the lives of everybody in his life – from his drug-addled friends to his prostitute sister. Oscar also can float in and out of people, and he does this to a man his sister is having sex with and experiences this new sensation at a molecular level – is it still incest? Answer – when your sister is that hot, who cares? …I kid.
Of all three of Noe’s films, this one to me has the most grime on it – which is saying a lot given the two prior movies. He is in love with shock and KNOWING the audience is squirming – and for that, I salute him, fuck a happy ending – that’s not always how it goes in life, and we need more films to show that so we don’t get brainwashed into thinking we all will have a happy ending…some of us ‘win’…some of us fuck with the wrong people and pay horrible consequences for that…
Honestly, I am having a very hard time articulating this film. It is a journey, a very emotional and unstable journey filled with mental and emotional exhaustion that one has to experience – MAYBE under the influence – though I didn’t say that.
So there you have it…kinda…with these films, you really need to experience them…turn off Facebook…turn off your phone…ignore your loud, smelly kids for a few hours…and let yourself go to a man whose vision is NOT pretty or uplifting. Welcome to your metaphor for life.