BY LEZA CANTORAL
Gaspar Noe’s Love is a dark and mystical journey of sex and self-discovery. Love is pure but sex is messy. The sexual expression of love is where the drama between hearts plays out in all its sweaty glory.
“I want to make movies out of blood, semen, and tears," says Murphy (Karl Glusman) to Electra (Aomi Muyock). This could just as well be Gaspar Noe speaking to the audience. "This is like the essence of life. I think movies should contain that. I think movies should be made of that," he says, adding that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is his favorite film.
Murphy is an American film student studying in Paris. He is full of passion and theories. He has theories on art and he has theories on love, but the moment he meets Electra, all his theories are put to the test.
The nightmare odyssey of Murphy and Electra surrounds you. It plays out like an epic melodrama. Time seems endless in this narrative that meanders through memories in a nonlinear trajectory. The logic of the film is emotional. The way you would remember a lover, first the good things and then the bad things; how a memory can engulf you, how the beautiful things seem more beautiful because they are gone, and the bad things more grotesque in retrospect.
There is no clear ending and you go deeper and deeper towards the beginning of it all, when they first met. You are lost in a sea of sensations—of colors, orgasms, and head spaces, as the couple explores threesomes, sex clubs, and Ayahuasca.
The story is told backwards. You see how things end before you see how they began. In this way you really see the meat of the matter and you see what the characters are made of. You see their devolution. You see all the ways you can fuck up a good thing and you watch the train wreck that is Murphy’s life. You see him in the bed he made and how he got there.
'Murphy’s Law' states that anything can go wrong it will. This is the story of everything going wrong for Murphy. All the factors of chaos working in their seemingly random and perverse ways lead Murphy into a situation in which he is currently miserable.
We find him living with the woman he has knocked up, Omi (Klara Kristin). He has a baby with her named Gaspar. We see him reminisce about his girlfriend, Electra, who he cheated on with Omi. He remembers all the good times, which mostly consist of lengthy erotic sex scenes, soulful conversations and getting high. He remembers the bond they had and he relives the mind blowing intimacy of their sex. He remembers them meeting Omi and deciding to have a threesome with her. He remembers fucking Omi when Electra was out of town, and the condom breaking. He remembers how everything fell apart, not just due to that but before, due to his jealousy and possessiveness with Electra.
When you see what kind of person Murphy really is you see that the best thing about him was Electra. They brought out the best in each other until they started bringing out the worst in each other.
Love itself is the star of the film. The characters glow with love, expressed through intense eroticism and tender moments of animal heat. Love itself is the beautiful thing. It is as if humans are too primitive a vessel for something as magnificent as love.
When Murphy is falling in love with Electra he gets outside of himself. They interact with each other wanting to get to know and understand the person they adore but Murphy is at war with himself. He wants to fully possess Electra but he also wants to fuck anyone else he wants. He wants sex without consequences.
When he and Electra decide to have a threesome their lives are changed forever. Omi keeps the baby and Electra leaves him. Murphy spends the whole film remembering Electra through all the highs and lows of their relationship. He cannot stop loving her once she is gone. He is unable to live his life because he is stuck in the past. It is in these remembrances of intimacy that you see the blooming of his soul. You see his self laid bare. Love purifies Murphy, but lust corrupts him. The tragedy is you cannot have one without the other.
Sex is the fun part. Sex is messy and dangerous and exciting. It is how bodies can express the things that hearts cannot speak. In the love bubble you are safe, but the love bubble always breaks. The sex scenes are red-lit and womblike. They enclose you in that sacred space.
This is a film that you experience on a subconscious level. It speaks to the animal within that hovers between existential dread and yearning for a perfect union.
Watching this movie is like falling in love. The colors and scenes enfold you in an intoxicating glow. You fall past the beauty and through the shit and towards a kind of spiritual transcendence.
The sex scenes are lit in a warm glow and instead of cuts between shots there are quick fades to black and back like the camera is an eye blinking in the most natural way. The film breathes like a living body. The sex scenes are like dance scenes, paired with the perfect music. It is a symphony of sounds and sensations.
As you reach the ending, which is really the beginning, you reach the heart of the story and it radiates in every direction, beautifying even the ugliest parts.
Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gaspar Noe’s Love is an exploration of what makes us human. What are we once the surface has been stripped bare. Many of the scenes between the lovers feel like they are taking place in a cave. The film explores the bestial animal urges that the characters are struggling with.
Where is the monkey and where is the man and are we really something in between, between Neanderthal and something new that we have yet to become.
Love is where the battle between romanticism and existentialism plays out in vivid Technicolor.
Leza Cantoral is the author of Planet Mermaid and editor of Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective. She writes a feminist column about noir film for Luna Luna Magazine called Shades of Noir and writes about pop culture for Clash Media. Her upcoming collection of short stories, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, will be coming out later this year through Bizarro Pulp Press. You can find her short stories at lezacantoralblog.wordpress.com and tweet her at @lezacantoral.