Gaspar Noé is no stranger to pushing the boundaries of cinema, taking every conceivable chance when presented with a ripe opportunity. This has resulted in a couple of masterstroke experiments — Irreversible and Enter the Void — where his unrelenting narrative focus and unflinching visual style bang on all cylinders and send audiences through evocative gauntlets of emotional and ethical turmoil. This can accurately describe the process by which his Lux Æterna operates. But whether or not some may consider this brilliant or a cacophony of irritation remains an entirely subjective adventure. In other words, this dramatic thriller is a “love it or hate it” scenario.
The initial moments are taken up by a Fyodor Dostoevsky quote, in which he speaks of the happiness which epileptics may experience “the second before our fit.” Though Noé doesn’t dive headlong into this subject until the second half, it perfectly summarizes the tone of the following 51-minutes (yes, this includes the closing credits). Actors Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg play fictionalized versions of themselves on the chaotic set of an over-budget film, which Dalle is directing and Gainsbourg stars.
“…Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg play fictionalized versions of themselves on the chaotic set of an over-budget film…”
As the two are subjected to the whims, woes, and egos of all the surrounding people, the movie functions as an essay about the highs and lows of making a motion picture and film appreciation. The opening moments act as a refrain throughout, as all the events are punctuated by quotes from famous cinematic creatives, such as Jean-Luc Godard and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
This isn’t the first time Noé has matched photosensitive visuals to an aggressive electronic ambient and musical soundtrack (the opening credits to Enter the Void remain one of my favorite all-time). In Lux Æterna, he introduces this combination slowly. It reminds me of that old apologue of putting a frog into a pot of tepid water and slowly bringing up the heat until it boils to death — that is exactly how the narrative primed me, unleashing its full fury in the final moments with a bang of chaos. If you could not sit through the theatrical trailer for the movie, then the entire thing is completely out of the question — this is one of the few times that the phrase “assault on the senses” is the most accurate assessment that anyone can attribute.
"…one of the few times that the phrase 'assault on the senses' is the most accurate assessment..."