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There are two schools of thought when it comes to Gaspar Noé. One is that he’s a gimmicky edgelord, delivering nothing but empty shocks. The other that he is a stylistically and formally daring provocateur creating visceral, experiential cinema. Climax, the story of an isolated dance group descending into depravity after being spiked by some LSD laced sangria, is unlikely to change many minds.
The premise allows Noé to lean on his favourite affectations. Climax is a trippy, colourful and hellishly unpleasant ride filmed in long, fluid takes and scored by pounding beats and synths. The narrative is chopped and rearranged from the first few minutes so that we all descend into hell having been pre-discombobulated. It’s studiedly edgy and calculatingly cool.
When Noé throws an opening dance party in the film’s first act you can see what his sensibility can do when applied to the right material. The opening routine is a dazzling, joyous set piece. A diverse cast of dancers flit in and out of frame, their bodies bending and moving into an endless stream of novel shapes while the camera glides around the dance floor, taking part in the choreography. It’s so good you begin to wonder why he hasn’t directed a full on musical.
The problems begin immediately after this opening salvo when we are treated to a montage of conversations between characters that have all the depth of Street Fighter II Turbo sprites. The topics covered include abortion, anal sex and you get the idea. Pick your monocle up from off the floor.
After grinding the film to a halt, the acid kicks in and everyone starts to act crazy. They then continue to act crazy (even the ones that didn’t partake) and continue and continue. Things get violent and sexual. The lights turn an Irreversible shade of red as a child’s screams echo over the dance music. The camera lurches around and then everything ends.
Why? What’s the point to any of this? There seems to be no conceit to this film other than “Here’s some fucked up stuff. Really makes you think, huh?” The story is punctuated by sub fortune cookie, stoner wisdom. We are told, in full frame, that “Life is a Collective Impossibility” and “Death is an Extraordinary Experience”.
Maybe these titles are there because Noé genuinely thinks they’re meaningful. Maybe they’re there because he knows his film isn’t and he wants to give it some weight. Either way, you wish he’d just cut it out.Maybe this is a film about the base urges within us, maybe it’s about the doors of perception. I suspect it’s about nothing. That would be fine but for the film positing that it is more than an empty spectacle.
Overall Climax serves as a reminder that while hallucinogens, though they might make things seem interesting to you, do not automatically make you interesting.