Dancing and drugs go hand in hand like steak and wine. In order to truly enjoy one, it’s best to pair it with the other.
**Spoilers ahead** Climax opens with dancers interviewing for a spot in a French dance troupe followed by a choreographed sequence where each of the dancers’ abilities, along with the groups overall connection, is highlighted. As they wrap up, the group celebrates the promise of a dance tour by drinking sangria that has been spiked with LSD without their knowledge. Trapped in an empty post-Catholic school in God-knows-where Europe during the middle of the blizzard, the group slowly descends into a night full of terrors. Spellbinding and addictive, Gaspar Noé’s Climax educes a trip where, depending if the viewer is open to the experience or not, sensations will remain pulsing through the brain after the experience is over.
Director Gaspar Noé has a reputation of unnerving his audiences. His work tends
to portray situations in lengthy sequences that distinguish his films as experiences rather
than a distraction from the realities of life. Noé is most known for his film Irreversible
(2002), which includes the longest rape scene in cinematic history. If in the past six years
you’ve gotten high to watch weird stuff on Netflix, odds are you’ve also seen another
notable film of his, Enter the Void (2009) the trippy film where the guy dies while on
MDMA and his life flashes before his eyes while he is high as a kite. Noé’s previous
work, Love (2015) follows a man reminiscing an ex-lover through a number of sensual
and elongated sex sequences. In comparison to his previous films, Climax is probably Noé’s most digestible work to date, which is why it has received mixed reviews from
critics. It’s not long, it does not have prolonged sex scenes, and it is not excessively
violent, which are some of the director’s most notable motifs. Instead, the film acts like a
drug itself, it seeps into your mind slowly with endless track shots, camerawork that
floats about the space, and an endless soundtrack comprised of notable
How exactly did Noé induce this trip? He achieved this sensation by placing a
strong focus on the sound and audio. He collaborated with a number of House/Dance
musicians like Daft Punk, Aphex Twins, Soft Cell, Gary Numan, and so many more. The
music literally never stops. It keeps thumping through the walls as the characters move
from the dance floor and into the halls of school. When the drugs begin to take a hold of
the dancers, the sounds of delirium are mixed in with the background music. Screams
sound closer than they really are, and cries amplify then fade as the characters move
through the school. The audio mimics the way sound is perceived while on drugs,
especially LSD, a drug that amplifies the senses once it’s ingested. Kudos to Sound
Mixer and Music Supervisor, Ken Yasumoto.
Beyond the sound is the camerawork. The camera takes on a personality of its
own as it moves from the center to above then below and upside down. This technique of
tracking the shot while moving the placement of the camera is one of Noé’s signatures as
a director. By keeping the sequences uninterrupted and the camera movement smooth and dream-like, audiences feel as if the events on screen are unfolding in real time, where perception is continuous.
The film opens with a title card that reads in French, “PRESENT A FRENCH
FILM AND PROUD OF IT,” which provides an idea of the themes that drive the
narrative. The French are known for having an outstanding underground scene. They are known for being sexually explorative and culturally mixed. The dance troupe is made up of dancers of different nationalities from different parts of Europe who are openly queer, gay, and bisexual. Apart of being very progressive, the French are also largely Catholic, Roman Catholic that is. As I suggested earlier that the camera takes on a personality of it’s own, the camera could also very much be the eye of God. God is mentioned in a variety of conversations that take place and it is acknowledged by some of the dancers that they do not feel confortable dancing amongst religious symbols. When the film begins the camera often moves from eye level to above the dance group in what is known in filmmaking as a God’s Eye point of view.
It becomes evident that the drugs begin to take a hold over the characters in a
God’s Eye shot of the dancers doing a dance circle, at first the circle is perfect and
dancers take turns taking the center then slowly the circle breaks as everyone dances into delirium. After this sequence is over the camera destabilizes and the shot is shaky as
Selva (Sofia Boutella) realizes everyone is high as hell, like purgatory, where reality of
death sets in. Then the camera stabilizes again and the plunge into hell begins as the
camera floats uncontrollably, slowly bouncing between characters and they endure the
trip. The school transforms into a nightmare of yellow, green, and red as the dancers
become possessed by their inner demons.
The film reaches its climax when the camera works its way back to the dance
floor after a series unsettling occurrences has taken place in this hell. In the final dance
sequence the image is upside down (things being upside down are characteristics of hell)
and lit in red lighting as the dancers behave like fallen angels. Some are absolutely
delirious contorting their bodies, others a fighting off accosters, people are having sex
while others beg and plead for it all to be over as everyone stumbles over one another in
this nightmare of a dance circle.
The hellish dance circle that concludes the film mimics Milton’s description of hell in
Paradise Lost. The film literally moves from heaven to hell through the eyes God.“A dungeon horrible, on all sides round, / As one great furnace, flam’d: yet from those flames/ No light but rather darkness visible….Such a place eternal justice had prepar’d / For those rebellious, here there prison ordain’d, / In utter darkness; and their portion set / As far removed from God and light of heaven.” I purposely chose not to reveal/critique what exactly happens between the characters of this film because their experiences are the ultimate key to this trip of a film.
I feel like I usually urge my readers to watch the films I review, but aside from my bias,
Climax is definitely a must see film that is best experienced in a theatre. There is so much about this film that makes it a cinematic game changer and a testament of a director finessing his art. Just watch it, please. If you’ve always hesitated doing drugs in real life, this film might keep you from doing so but it will give you a sensation that feels like you’re in an altered state.
By Stephanie Hinojosa