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Movie Review: ‘Vortex’ is Gaspar Noé’s Most Approachable, Yet Disconsolate Film

Movie Review: ‘Vortex’ is Gaspar Noé’s Most Approachable, Yet Disconsolate Film

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writer: Gaspar Noé

Stars: Dario Argento, Alex Lutz

Synopsis: The last days of an elderly couple stricken by dementia.


When talking about Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé, the first word that comes to mind is “provocateur.” He is a man that has done his best to test the audience’s patience when it comes to shock value and “exploitation” to the point where it makes us yell at him for what he puts on the screen. That may not be his primary goal, but he always succeeds regardless. The hallway scene in Irréversible (2002), the unsimulated sex scenes in Love (2015), or the LSD-spiked dance party that is Climax (2018, his best work to date) are examples of the cinematic behavior that is his filmography. Gaspar has never been afraid to keep viewers at a distance, although that alone may make him a unique and creative auteur. After suffering from a brain hemorrhage that happened almost more than a year and a half ago, he felt that he needed to create something that fit his current feeling. He has returned with what can be called his most “tame” film, if you could call it such (it’s a double-edged sword of sorts), Vortex

It is odd to say that Gaspar has made a film not for the sake of disturbance or incommodity, but to show the viewer a slice of human conduction. Be that as it may, don’t expect sunshine and roses from Noé; it won’t be an easy ride. Be prepared for an experience that will devour your innards emotionally. His knife is sharpened, but he is waiting for the right moment to start piercing. Who is at the center of his new cinematic venture? A retired psychiatrist (Françoise Lebrun) and a writer (Dario Argento) working on his final book about the intersection between dreams and cinema. We viewers wander through the Parisian apartment and a couple of close locations as souls loose in a haunted house as we follow the elderly couple through a handful of gloomy days. Gaspar’s former cinematic techniques, the split-screen from Lux Æterna (2019) and the aspect of following the lead around like a lost soul from Enter the Void (2009), are put to the test here and seem more fully-fledged, causing the movie to make its mark more impactful and riveting. 

Wherever they go, we go; the emptiness inside makes us float around, slowly waiting for sheer tragedy. As one goes from cogent to addled, the other tries to do his best in these situations. The tension of Climax and the unease of Irréversible don’t match what Vortex brings to the table; you’re stuck in the claustrophobic apartment until the end credits hit, and its reverberating dread doesn’t leave your mind afterward. It emotionally destroys you. Gaspar once again takes you into his realm and makes your soul ache. There are moments when you want to stop watching or looking at the screen because of the existential pain it’s oozing. A person might argue that it is an exaggeration of such pain, and in some ways, it is, however it’s very effective and deserves some points for it. The experience I had with watching this movie was similar to my first time watching Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), where the ending is told at the beginning: the world is coming to an end, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Once finished with both pictures, you just stare at your ceiling for minutes, thinking about everything. That feeling of existential angst and the thought of going through something similar haunts us all. Vortex is a unique experience that one doesn’t want to undergo again, but it still gets you when you’re least expecting it, even though you know it’s a Gaspar Noé picture. It isn’t easy to forget about what it proposes, and its alternate title, “The Edge of the World”, would have given us a more precise definition. Instead, the word vortex blatantly describes the essence and energy of these sequences that Gaspar wants the viewer to confront. Like most of his features, one does not watch this for fun or entertainment but to reflect and wander around in your conceptualizations of life. It may be the most approachable of his filmography, but steer clear from the signs. The reason why it’s “accessible” is because that misery is within reach of all. There are no shocks, “childish” dilemmas, nor deliberately terrible scenes that you want cleared from your mind. Instead, there is only a simple story that can only transcend in one manner, downwards–a downward spiral onto the realization of life. 

Depressing as hell, yet structured precisely and powerfully by Noé. It is his rendition of covering the topic of old age, and who might have known that this would be the way he did it. Dedicated to “all those whose minds will decompose before their hearts,” it goes in many ways as we follow the elderly couple through this heart-aching journey. Many describe Vortex as his Amour (2012) because it goes straight to the heart of the periphery and gut-punches silently with themes of old age and death. However, different from it, this shows the arid, nitty-gritty mechanics of aging set inside an enclosed apartment, causing it to be more so a metaphor for a mental prison that each builds around themselves as our minds plunge. Although Enter the Void missed the mark on the topics of death and being a close spectator, it painted the way for Gaspar to reach a new mature light with the merciless 142-minute ride that is Vortex and deliver anxiousness without goading its audience or going into an extremist vexation. It quotes: “Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten.” This is Gaspar Noé at his most approachable and simultaneously disconsolate. 


Grade: B+

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