Exclusive Q&A: Director Gaspar Noe's View of The Cusp of Death As Detailed in Enter The Void

The week preceding Halloween provides an opportunity to celebrate the genres of the supernatural, fantastical and horror film. The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents its fourth edition of its annual Scary Movies series (through Oct. 31) -- including the well-executed Stake Land. Clint Eastwood's neo-supernatural Hereafter has just opened and other film centers around town have offered their share of creepy cinematic fare.

At this time, Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void is still playing in town. Though not strictly a supernatural film, it draws on some of the genre's conventions to offer an surreal, visually odd film with a unique point of view.

Over his relatively short career, Argentinian-born French filmmaker Noe has garnered a disproportionate amount of press for his controversial films. First he made I Stand Alone, then Irréversible. Both provocatively deal with violent men in violent situations; in the first case, incest, and, with the second, brutal rape.

Then he made the mystically-infused Enter The Void featuring the ever-seductive Paz de la Huerta (now starring in Boardwalk Empire). Though it is rife with violent scenes, it is not a violent film like the others. Based on a reading of the Tibetan Book of The Dead, Enter The Void takes the audience through a man's first few minutes after his death. As his spirit, essence, or whatever you want to call it, travels through the city, over rooftop, we see a series of flashbacks until his "soul" reincarnates in the next vessel that will emerge as another life takes shape in a graphic sex scene.

Q: The idea in Buddhism is what is real/what is not real is illusory; that's why the Tibetan Book of the Dead has connected with people tripping on acid. Both the book and acid raise the question what's real and what's not real. Am I really seeing this, am I not really seeing this? Is that also what you were raising was the question of what is reality in a sense?

GN: Ask yourself what is present and real, why your own memories get so blurry when you have a blackout or even why you try to remember what you did two weeks ago.

Q: The Buddhist notion that life is an illusion or that in life the only unchanging thing is change links with the feeling here that life is cheap, and that these Japanese seem to regard these Westerners' lives as cheap.

GN: What happened in the movie would never happen. It could have happened in some other countries but not in Japan, but I needed some dramatic [element] to start the movie. At the end of the movie you don't know if his memories were not an illusion. He comes back to life to understand that the whole mental state that you were going through actually was just a dream. All that in the movie is just an illusion but you can think that even his whole life is an illusion before that.

The truth is that you don't know at the end of the movie. You can't tell anymore what's real. But in the case of his dream at the end of the movie you don't know if he's not going to simply just wake up in a hospital and be sent to prison; you can't tell if he died or not. It's making a dream out of all the elements that he went through. He read The Book of the Dead and promised to never leave her so he decided to reincarnate.

Q: Your other films have equated sex with violence. Though there are elements of that in this film, it also has, at least by the end, the flip side, where sex offers a resurrection, reincarnation or redemption. Is that what you were showing in terms of your own evolution and in the evolution of the film?

GN: There is no reincarnation because at the end he comes back through his mother's belly and we don't know if he's going back into the loop and coming back to life through his mother's belly or if he's just remembering or reconstructing a false memory of the most traumatic moment of his life -- the moment he discovered his life for the first time. I don't know if there is any redemption in heterosexual love here but you see a woman and a man making love.

Q: Are you familiar with Wilhelm Reich -- the radical psychologist who posited that sexuality and sex was the most important release of energy.

GN: He constructed a machine didn't he?

Q: The orgone box [orgone accumulator].

GN: I've read about him but never read his books.

Q: This movie deals more with sex as a positive energy release as well as negative energy release; you're looking at both sides of it here. Was that your message, about the negative and the positive of the energy release of sex?

GN: I don't believe in good and evil, I don't believe in positive and negative energy. There is an energy of life or course that fights for the survival of the species, so whatever keeps you alive is good for the survival of the species. There is a meaningful energy which is the sexual energy.

Q: The most important thing though I think in making this movie work was having Paz, because you had to have somebody with that sexuality and that power to sort of reconnect throughout. Was she the toughest person to get for the film?

GN: No, actually I met her almost one year before I met Nathaniel [Brown, who is the man getting killed] and I really liked her and I wanted to have her in the movie. But I had problems, believe it or not, to find someone to play the brother, because I wanted to have some physical resemblance between the brother and the sister. And also I knew that I wanted to avoid a professional actress because as a concept of the movie I knew that if I had a professional actor he would have a vision.

Q: This movie fits into a canon of films about the experience just before death. There's that movie that was one with Ryan Gosling in it. Marc Forster directed called Stay. Have you seen any of those movies -- were they an inspiration?

GN: Of course there were other movies that had complex special effects, like The Matrix but in many ways this movie is simpler than those others.

Q: I see a science-fictional influence in this film. Will you be moving more towards science-fictional films?

GN: Actually I'm going to go more [towards] erotic movies. I shot a documentary but I guess I'll go to a safer place.

Q: Buddhist thinking also involves that peace, satori or enlightenment, the idea of not killing, not damaging life. Do you see yourself moving more in that direction creatively and conceptually as well?

GN: I know that I wouldn't want to kill an animal. Even when there's a cockroach in the kitchen I don't kill the cockroach.

Q: Did you become more Buddhist-oriented in making this movie?

GN: I'm not Buddhist. I don't believe in religion; I don't even believe in the survival of the mind after death. I believe that there are forces and connections between humans in their lifetimes but I don't think they will ever exist on another dimension.