Even here in Park City, it’s hard to escape Avatar’s long shadow. And it’s not just because everybody’s talking about the sci-fi epic’s record-breaking box office. Comparisons to James Cameron’s film came swiftly among both critics and moviegoers after the premiere of French director Gaspar Noe’s stunning Enter the Void, a borderline experimental techno epic about a junkie whose spirit floats above the streets of nighttime Tokyo after he’s killed during a drug bust. Sort of an art-film counterpart to Cameron’s film, Void is a fever dream that blends elements of 2001, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and dozens of other films, books, and videogames to craft a journey into an alternate reality, one that seems to have emerged from the deepest recesses of one passionately twisted auteur’s mind. (Though, unlike Avatar, it’s also got acres and acres of explicit sex and nudity.) And for all his arthouse cred, Noe doesn’t seem bothered by the comparisons: He freely cops to loving Avatar, and the fact that he and Cameron share a Stanley Kubrick obsession.
He’s also convinced they have something else in common: “I’m sure Cameron did some mushrooms,” Noe told us during a chat here. “Those scenes in the forest with the glowing plants — if you’ve ever done mushrooms any time in your life, you know those are exactly the kind of visions you have. I’m sure he must have done some ‘mental research’ before he made that movie.” Cameron, of course, has denied ever having done drugs (except inadvertently, when someone infamously spiked the catering for Titanic). Noe shrugs: “Michel Gondry also does very trippy images, and I know for a fact that he’s clean as water. So maybe it’s true.”
For his part, Noe has been fairly open about how drug use played a part in the conception of Enter the Void, which the director has been working on for over a decade. (Along the way, to test out some of his techniques, he made the super-controversial Irreversible, which told a rape-revenge story in reverse, opening with a man being bludgeoned to death on-camera and then progressing backwards to the 10-minute Monica Bellucci rape scene which triggered the act.) “One day, in my 20s, I was with friends, and had done too many mushrooms,” he recalls. “I turned on the TV as I was coming down, and it was showing Lady in the Lake, the Robert Montgomery film noir that’s filmed entirely through the character’s eyes. I wasn’t so much hallucinating at that point, but I thought it would be great to make a movie like this and add all the experiences I had today on mushrooms — telepathic perception, strange colors around people, the sense of floating.”
So, will Enter the Void, which has been picked up by IFC Films and is set to be released later this year, now generate armies of imitators, as Avatar surely will? Noe isn’t so sure. “This is mainly a big budget underground movie, and it could only have been made in Europe. If it wasn’t me, then maybe it would be Lars von Trier or somebody making it. But I don’t know how many people will try to do what we did. It was pretty exhausting.”