Director: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock and Klara Kristi
Running Time: 135 minutes
Release Date: November 20th
“He’s a French bloke. Wakes up in France, has a biscuit, thinks ‘what did I do yesterday’ for three thousand pages. Brilliant. Very French”, said Bernard Black, when asked to summarise Marcel Proust: a condensation as apt for the French modernist as it is for French-Argentinian provocateur, Gaspar Noé and his latest offering Love.
Substitute “French bloke” for American. Change biscuit to ball of opium and “yesterday” to “with my former lover”. Delete Proust’s autobiographical elements in favour of Noé’s personal philosophy. Drench the reflections in unsimulated sex and there you have a basic idea of what will entail. Whether you come out only seeing the final switch depends on your attitude towards sex, but there it is, and an open mind is important.
Set around New Year’s Day in Paris, we follow the story of Murphy, an ex-pat, who embodies and endorses Noé’s “blood, sweat and sperm” aesthetic, while being defined by Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”). His sole function is to act as a literal and figurative “dick”. He is nothing more, and nothing less, and like a male member starting flaccid, his size will gradually grow until eventually you see him as the fully erect “dick” that he truly is.
Waking up next to his partner, Omi, with whom he bore a meta-child named Gaspar; Murphy is shown to be a horrendously despicable character from the start. Stumbling about his apartment hungover, he talks via an internal monologue, which selfishly dwells only on regret, contempt, and self-pity, yet there is also a modicum of humanity in there too.
Then, after what one could be class as a slightly tedious extended sulky diatribe, largely dismissive of everything as being “shit”, he discovers a voicemail left by a tearful woman. Suddenly, his mood changes, upon learning that Electra, a former lover is missing and presumed dead. The shock acts partially as the Proustian madeleine, triggering the hyperreal journey into his past, told in reverse, albeit shuffled about a bit.
We learn that Gaspar is the consequence of a broken condom, and that Omi was originally a mere pawn in Electra and his sexual fantasies. Yet, the couple’s decision to use an exponent of pro-life backfires when Omi’s philosophy grounds Murphy’s aspiration to become a filmmaker, while also ruining his deviant lifestyle. Forced to stuff each cruel thought into his head, that is the point at which we meet our miserable, festering antagonist.
A cross blend between Daniel in Enter the Void and the Butcher in I Stand Alone, Murphy is an amalgamation of Noé’s entire back catalogue. Within his life, there are regular nods to Noé himself, his work and influences, and to such an extent, that one could argue Love is intended as the pinnacle of the filmmaker’s career so far.
Furthermore, Love is a reply to the label of stylized pornographer. Yet, Noé does not deny these charges, rather, he responds by saying: Pornography is also an art form. It may be an emotionally artificial, misleading and primal one, whose purpose is to titillate viewers, but then again, how is that different from anything released today? Steve Jobs is not realistic, Tangerine is acting, so that is not real emotion, and Spectre is big budget titillation, pure and simple. The only difference between Love and those films is that Love does not pretend to be anything else.
Love is about sex. It does not have to proclaim to be something larger, because sex is the pinnacle of humanity. Without sex, most people would not act, much less be born, and while people fight to transcend their primal instincts, it is the definition of their existence, as cynical as that may sound. Sex is the goal, not the path towards the goalposts, and Love is the unsettling reminder of this fact.