Delved into the area of a crawl space,
Back against the wall, hand steadying your body—
Or maybe you’re just trying to stop the walls from closing in on you.
Legs outstretched and tingly from a cool breeze,
The scratchy feeling of sand when you jumped off the first time.
And the fourteenth time.
No one ever tells you the rules for “how to watch a film.” No one ever tells you that there are any restrictions at all. The ritual goes like this: find a comfy spot on your bed, maybe that hollowed part that you somehow roll into when you want to feel like sinking, fold yourself in a blanket that smells slightly off (I think it’s time that you washed this one).
Why don’t people tell you when you’ve got something stuck in your teeth? For Christ’s sake, mom always told you to stop cracking your knuckles.
Did I mention you needed a glass of iced tea—or was it lemonade? —to go with that bag of unsalted popcorn? Did I mention you needed a puff of some of that good stuff, the one that those kids call Girl Scout cookies?
Comfort is easy to take for granted. Remember when your parents used to rub your head until you fell asleep, and now you want someone else to do the same? You’re sitting in that hollowed spot, digging your nails into your forehead—am I still here?
Don’t forget to turn the lights off. Nothing is worse than watching a film with the unrelenting glare of your bedroom light on the screen.
At the start of the film I was already reeling due to the opening scene: a bunch of flashing lights and flashing colors and flashing words. Too flashy. This continued for too long, about two and a half minutes, during which I felt that I was beginning to exhibit a sort of epileptic-crazed hypnosis. Like I said, it was too long—or maybe it was the weed. The title card then appears and reappears as an invitation: ENTER. My friends have told me that Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, almost purely an experimental film, is a drug trip just to watch sober, so I decided to experiment. What would it feel like to add another layer to the watching experience? Under the influence of my friend, Mary Jane, that is. In the past I’ve seen a few films after getting high: Dazed and Confused, Hoodwinked, Friday, The Godfather. I’m not one to smoke marijuana all that much but getting high releases just enough stress and I can fall asleep soon after. This time I felt the need to test the boundary as the spectator and willfully step into the film as a character myself. The camerawork does most of this on its own, as the film is shot through the perspective of a drug addict who gets shot and killed while high on DMT.
DMT is a psychedelic drug with similar effects to magic mushrooms and LSD. To this effect the film models itself in the form of a drug trip, as the camera’s angle allows the spectator to see through the main character’s eyes including his dreams, hallucinations, and perceived reality. This means that the camera does not give you a reliable point of view since it also pulls you into the character’s hallucinations and false memories. It is believed that your body produces DMT, a naturally-occurring chemical, during death and REM sleep. DMT can be ingested in crystal form and although it only lasts for a short time, it produces one of the most intense experiences of all psychedelics. I didn’t have access to a drug like that, but I decided that marijuana would at least work to give me an altered state of consciousness. The rest of the film takes the viewer from one scene to another, through portals of warped kaleidoscopic shapes and fluorescent colors, all complemented with psychedelic music.
Stages of DMT
After researching the effects that the drug has on the human mind and body, I found that the specific experiences each person has will depend on the varying intakes and how well the user processes it. This means that each trip is different, and the user may not even receive the full effects of DMT. Josh Mur, who states he has used DMT multiple times, decides that his own experiences, in tandem with others’ who have shared theirs (he calls them “fellow explorers”), have given him enough information to plot out a three-phase experience. Mur describes the experience in terms such as “dream-like” and “spiritual,” and for the sake of the reader’s lack of experience goes into abundant detail of each stage.
As I mentioned previously, Enter the Void begins with a clear message to how the film will take its course: a flashy, fluorescent introduction with an invitation that literally takes its form from the title. Entering the void only functions to open the film to the viewer, who is introduced to the title characters, Oscar and Linda, two siblings who live together in Tokyo. It soon becomes clear that Oscar is both a drug addict and dealer. My first ‘trip’ with Oscar occurred soon after he smokes DMT and the subsequent illustrations depict his comatose mind as it enters a hallucination. What followed was nearly identical to the opening scene—music, colors, shapes and all. Mur describes this as The Gates, comprised of “disorientation, hallucinations, and contact with unknown entities from time to time.” Most people get stuck in this first stage, however ‘letting go’ is the only way you can continue on to experience the euphoric experience that follows. At this point my bed formed an imprint around my body and I had sunken into its deep concavity.
After successfully passing the first phase, the user blasts past the gates and toward a tunnel in which fellow explorers recall seeing their life and memories. Mur summarizes this phase as a “blast-off, reflection, and dissociative process between the body and soul.” The hallucination ends when Oscar’s friend Alex wakes him up and they leave together so Oscar can deliver drugs to another friend. The following sequence doubles as a point of view and tracking shot, as Alex leads Oscar down his apartment building steps, a spiral staircase that does not seem to end. Not only did this movement give me an awkward sense that I was leaning in the same direction that the stairs were spiraling downwards, but I felt that my perception had been fooled: because the shape of the staircase allows for the same scenery to appear in the background, I suddenly felt that we weren’t going down at all. In fact, seeing the same landscape over and over as Alex explains The Tibetan Book of the Dead to Oscar (and me) was more dizzying than it was informative.
Fast forward to the bottom where we’ve finally reached the ground: Oscar and Alex walk up to a bar appropriately named The Void, which was an easy way to sneak in the title while not immediately giving away the intent of the film. It was apparent that something ominous was about to occur, as I followed Oscar into The Void—by the next two scenes he has been cornered in the bathroom and shot while still under the influence of DMT.
I couldn’t help but notice the camerawork is ingenious. Even though I was in a state of disarrayed confusion, I was taken back to my own memories of Japan, a place which to most people is completely foreign. This was probably a purposeful appeal on the director’s part—to put the audience in a discomforting position and outside of familiarity. Just last year I had pointed out to a friend that I had never lived an “American summer,” as we were amid sharing childhood memories from summertime. It is never explained why Oscar lives in Japan. In this sense, the viewer is probably a bit out of place, but I felt an onset of nostalgia and jealousy that Oscar got to live somewhere that I’ve been wanting to go back to for the last several years.
Spending nearly every summer in Japan, it was the only thing my sister and I looked forward to when the school year came to a close. I remember the heat each time we landed in Tokyo, the wheels catching on the asphalt runway, the symphonic sound of seatbelts releasing soon after the sign turned off. We had to wait until everyone else got off—apparently veteran unaccompanied minors can’t walk around in an airport alone. It was practically muscle memory: after landing in Tokyo, passing through customs, we were to get on our connecting flight to Fukuoka. We always laughed at the abbreviation—FUK—that was glossed on everything from our tickets to the flight board.
No Man’s Land
As far as Mur is concerned this is the furthest stage you can reach, at which point every phase was a success:
“The experiences in stage three are extremely broad. Some have experienced living through the eyes of ancient beings. Some recall touring cities composed of interdimensional machinery. Others report having (usually) friendly conversation with sentient beings such as aliens, elves, angels, and in some cases, God” (Mur).
In Oscar’s case, his mind jumps between watching young Linda’s breastfeeding, his parents’ unfortunate deaths, his own autopsy, and watching over Linda beyond the grave. He even follows people in Japan at a love hotel, with at least ten different scenes depicting couples having sex, and Linda as she and Alex engage in sexual intercourse.
At this point in the film, I had taken a break to smoke another joint, as if the effects of marijuana wore off due to the extremely taxing scenes consisting of hypnotic visual patterns and music, and graphic content in an order that seems irregular at first. My mind would try to grasp some sort of pattern and eventually give up, but after researching the effects of DMT, I realized that it was evident from the beginning: Oscar’s body is still under the influence when he is shot, but his mind transcends the story’s timeline as his spirit searches the world beyond death in the same way that DMT affects the body. During my time under the influence of a much less potent drug, I don’t feel that the film freaked me out all that much, but the boundary-pushing camerawork and stylized effects impressively gave me a similar sense of psychedelic consciousness even as the spectator. Following Oscar’s spirit led me back to old memories and an uncomfortable hypnotic experience, much like the real effects that DMT has on the human body and psyche.
Mur, Josh. “The 3 Phases of DMT—A Detailed Guide to Dimethyltryptamine, the Spirit Molecule.” The Mind Unleashed, 24 Sept. 2014.