“Climax,” Gasper Noé’s latest film venture, is designed to push its audience over the edge. Everything about it, from the plot to the music to the cinematography, is beyond disturbing. And I absolutely loved it.
The film tells the supposedly true story of a group of dancers in ’90s France that undergoes a night of sex, violence and chaos as a result of drinking LSD-laced sangria. Because the perpetrator of this drugging isn’t revealed until the final shot of the film, the audience is just as lost and confused as the dancers are. While the premise of “Climax” alone has the potential to be presented in an absurdist or even comedic light, Noé takes the exact opposite route. He makes it dark, repulsive and deeply depressing.
“Climax” is one of the most immersive movie experiences I’ve ever had, mainly due to Noé’s masterful command of the technical aspects of filmmaking. As the night progresses and the drugs begin to take effect, the camerawork faces a gradual decline in clarity and precision. As the dancers become sloppy in their judgement and cognition, the camera becomes sloppy as well, shaking and going in and out of focus at random moments. While we as an audience are never able to fully grasp what the dancers are experiencing, the movements of the camera do an excellent job of mimicking it. The sounds in the movie also function to immerse viewers in the world of “Climax.” At certain points in the film, the bass of the music was so loud that I could feel my heart adjusting to pump along with it. Just as the dancers lost control of their bodies, I felt I was losing control over mine, albeit in an admittedly much less severe manner.
The film continues to disturb its viewers through its plot on a deep, psychological level. “Climax” purposely seeks to confront and exploit our most innately human repulsions and fears. The film tackles topics like incest and self-harm, and even threatens the lives of a child and a pregnant woman. “Climax” clearly understands the things that scare us not only in general, but on an evolutionary, primal level, and it takes no issue in exploiting them to the absolute extreme.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever see “Climax” again. I’m not sure if I even want to. But I’m certainly glad I saw it, if only for the fact that I’ve never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. Many will say that “Climax” goes too far in all respects, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. But there’s something to be said about a movie that can conjure up such extreme reactions from its audience, even if said reactions arise out of shock and disgust. “Climax” is a prime example of what film as a medium is capable of: Harnessing the power of sight and sound to make us feel something, no matter how unpleasant it may be. And that, I think, is something to be celebrated.