Monday, March 11, 2013

The Major Arcana #15: THE DEVIL - Gaspar Noe

This is the sixteenth in a series of blog posts discussing major figures in film and literature, based on the Major Arcana of the Tarot. I'll be using the 21 Major Arcana of the standard Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. For some more background on the deck's history and its elusive role in popular culture, see this post from HiLowBrow, which is a good primer on the Tarot, and pretty fascinating in its own right.


THE DEVIL: Gaspar Noe

In a timely coincidence, Gaspar Noe has recently surfaced after a while under the radar; at the beginning of February, his video for the Animal Collective song Applesauce appeared, in which the inky silhouette of a mouth eats a fruit, lusciously and sensuously, before a background that cycles rhythmically and rapidly between bright primary colors.

This video distills one of Noe's essential characteristics: he is a filmmaker of the senses, and if nothing else, this music video is a pure sensory composition, a synaesthetic torrent of colors, shapes, and allusions to smells and flavors and textures. Working in the limited palette of sound and moving image, Noe wants to evoke, as much as possible, a completely immersive multisensory fugue.

So Gaspar Noe, the Devil of contemporary cinema, emerges from the ether: a creature of self-indulgence and materialism, of the loss of self within the ocean of sensory overload. The Devil represents the triumph of the physical and the primal over the spiritual and the cerebral; he is the collapse of moderation in favor of perpetually indulged but inexhaustible desire. Like Noe, he is the taboo-breaker, the transgressor of successive boundaries, the poet of vice and the stylist of the flesh.

The Devil often represents slavery, either to an outside force or to an inner master, a particular impulse or obsession. This is a running theme for Gaspar Noe's main characters: Marcus, the main character in Irreversible, is a slave to his excesses, first in sex and drugs, and then in bitterness and vengeful wrath. They are not evil, but the circumstances -- the cruelty of a malignant force guiding their fates -- maneuvers them into vicious, amoral actions, perversions of their own natures. As a nameless character says in the first scene in Irreversible: "I guess we're all Mephisto. ... It's no big deal."

If that's not a clear enough announcement of the presence of the Dark Lord, consider, also: in film after film, Noe creates a transparent allegory for the journey to the underworld, which is often juxtaposed with a return to the womb, or to a more primordial state of being. In Irreversible, it's the red passageway beneath the street; in Enter the Void, it's the first jarring trip through the pipes in a building in Tokyo, as Oscar's troubled soul falls out of his ruined body.

This is the journey Gaspar Noe insists on taking us on, through a sensory slipstream of disturbing imagery and reeling camerawork: a journey of torment, punishing, but, at its best, cleansing and cathartic, allowing us to come out the other side purged of our own Devils.

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