There are films that tell you a story. Could be a love story about a guy planning to drink himself to death and unexpectedly falling in love. Could be a thriller about a woman trying to find her place in the FBI while tracking down a very unsavory individual. Those kinds of films primarily concern themselves with narrative, and that’s great because as social animals, we figure out the world through stories.

Then, there are films that are more of a ride. You know those times where you want to see two pretty people kiss, or John Wick shooting fifteen people in the face? Your week has been absolute garbage and you simply want to satisfy the lizard brain? A time and place exists for cinema like that, and don’t let anybody tell you there’s something wrong with it..* 

For me, “art films” fall into a different category entirely. They exist to combine a strong emotional response with an intellectual response. You might not understand from a narrative perspective just what the hell you’re watching when you pop in most of David Lynch’s work, but I promise you that everything he’s made will cause you to feel genuine emotions and have an opinion about it afterward.**

The same goes for Argentine/French filmmaker Gaspar Noe. He’s made Irreversible, Enter the Void, and Vortex, films that unflinchingly gaze at the brutal passage of time, the falsity of afterlife beliefs, and the nightmare of old age. Are you intimidated by the idea of checking out his stuff? Me, too. My instinct is to just suck it up and dive in, even if I’m afraid I won’t understand it. You’re not stupid if you don’t get a movie, it simply means it’s challenging, and challenging cinema can expand your horizons. That’s how I felt watching Noe’s new film Lux Aeterna. I think I got it, but it took some doing.

We begin with a conversation between two women. French actors Beatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg play versions of themselves, and in a heavily improvised scene, they discuss their careers, their lives, and the upcoming film they’re working on. It’s a witch-themed horror movie entitled God’s Work. As they talk, they’re shown on split screens, and we see Dalle’s enthusiastic cynicism contrasting with Gainsbourg’s quiet passivity.

I liked that opening scene. It shows us two distinctive women and gives us a strong idea of who they are and how they see the world. It’s also relatively quiet, and it’s the last moment of quiet we’ll have. From there, we’re shoved into a flurry of activity during the production of the film. A little time is spent with actor Abbey Lee, playing a version of herself seeking some kind of direction regarding what she’s doing and why she’s there.

Things get worse with a boyfriend who won’t back off, a disturbing domestic situation involving a small child, a producer convinced everyone is out to destroy him, a cinematographer obsessed with capturing chaos, and more. Those moments are interspersed with quotes from filmmakers regarding their processes, beliefs, and the gendered thumb on the scale regarding women.

As the madness mounts, most of the film remains on a split-screen and tracks Gainsbourg and Dalle. It climaxes with a scene of women being metaphorically burned at the stake accompanied by a punishing sequence of strobing lights and an omnipresent hum. Ordinarily, I’m someone who believes viewers should see as much as they can to get outside their comfort zones. For those who have epilepsy or are sensitive to visual or auditory stimuli, I’d say skip this film and do yourself a favor.

To review, we have a fifty-one minute “feature” written and directed by one of the great cinematic provocateurs. So…is it good? Well, yes and no. If you’re looking for a traditional narrative involving character arcs and a somewhat clear resolution, I think you’re likely to hate Lux Aeterna. Gaspar Noe is guided by a particular muse and seems to have an utter disinterest in making a “regular” movie.

That’s most certainly for the best. Noe isn’t just making a film about sexism in the arts, though it is a focus. To me, he feels more preoccupied with creating an escalating ambiance of panicky dread, a feeling that a film shoot somehow tapped into the bleakest and blackest magick. Noe likes to utilize split screens, and in his prior work, he’s used them to portray narratives and experiences that take place at the same time. Here, the technique adds to the disorientation, and when it split into three screens…well, that was one of a few minutes when I almost peaced out.

Old maps used to indicate uncharted areas with the saying, “Here there be monsters.” That legend created an unease, a feeling that things could spiral wildly out of control very, very quickly. This film is the cinematic equivalent of that concept, a surreal nightmare made by a master. If you’re up for the struggle, it could be a trip worth taking.


*If that’s all you’re watching, though? That ain’t good.

**And if you don’t understand what you just watched, that’s cool! My advice is to focus on how it made you feel and go from there.

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.