Film can be a hell of a drug, it would seem.
For the crowd that felt high anxiety from the Suspiria ritualistic finale, for the students who read about the riots caused by Fando Y Lis, and for those who weren’t alive the first go around of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Climax will either give them more of what they want, just what they missed, or some form of a headache. No matter what, they’ll be drinking water afterward. Gaspar Noe’s follow-up to his provocative (a common word to describe his catalog) 3D celebration and destruction of youthful attraction and physical embrace, Love, might just be his most “accessible” movie, with quotation marks hanging heavily in the air. Accessible in terms of vulgarity and graphic happenings (which do occur, but feel tame compared to everything else going on), I mean. Whatever ugliness that does rise to the top is extreme, coming from an emotional and ugly auteur place. And we could use more ugly in our multiplexes.
Climax is, as stated in part of an early title credit and paraphrased here, a “proud of it” French production. Indeed, throughout the film, the French flag, done up in a warped design, hangs above our characters as if above an altar at a Church. As if the station underneath it is home to a sermon. Here, that spot is reserved for a DJ. Here, this Church is home to a dance troupe, just wrapping up final practice before embarking on a performance tour. Gossiping and relaxing over some Sangria, the crew mostly talk about sex and relationships but briefly bring up this flag, how it freaks them out a bit, and how they fit in before it. It’s a diverse group of young creative physical interpreters, who the camera moves to and fro in a cut & splice/eye to eye manner. One could probably determine if this movement is clockwise, counter, or dependent on who is looking at who – and I can only wonder how such an action plays into the story.
To be young, living in France, dancing & partying with like-minded folk, in the roaring 1990s (mildly established during character introductions): Is this hell?
From this point, the film descends into a chaos that comes about from all directions, leading to and from everywhere possible. The Sangria has been spiked with what is suspected to be LSD. Inner demons and angels come out of everyone, swap bodies, and eventually dissolve into nothing before being born again in the mass madness experienced. Through one long, single-appearing take, the effects of this spiking devolve quickly and plunge everyone, from the characters to the audience into, through, and out the other end of a nightmare-scape involving sex, death, bodily contortions, and screaming. It’s a sensory overload that ramps up as the volume pumps up.
Utterly insane and righteous, Climax not only further establishes Gaspar Noe as a Jodorowsky infused Kubrick stan but also as someone with whom the essence of drama is not lost upon. Filmmaker Peter Greenaway once remarked that life is basically made up of sex, death, and the reconciliation between the two. To different degrees, I would argue that, if cinema is a reflection of us and our world, most good to great movies are expressions of this observation. Climax is alive with such expression, based on that very observation, and ranges from subtle to not so subtle gravitas.
What hath Timothy Leary wrought, and why do kids follow?
RATING: 5 / 5
Climax screens at The Broad Theater and AMC Elmwood starting this weekend.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved.