Let's start at the end, shall we? Such a very Gaspar Noe thing to do, to begin (as this one does) with the end credits scrolling downwards and finishing with the title, in the same way that I've started off with the star rating and left the spoiler warning till the end. Such a wacky maverick is our Gaz, such a japester: putting erupting 3D willies in Love (a film I kind of enjoyed), colossally long single takes in Enter The Void (a film I didn't much like), telling the whole story backwards in Irreversible (a film I absolutely hated)...and what now? Oh, let's have the last half hour of the film upside down. Let's do everything in dreamlike long takes. Let's back everything with a thudding, throbbing club soundtrack. Why? Because this is Un Film De Gaspar Noe.
Very few films have compelled me to bellow 15-certificate profanities into the howling wastes of Leicester Square within seconds of the lights going up, but Noe's newie managed it. Watching Climax left me feeling like I'd been poleaxed: subjected to the evil brain-mangling technique from The Ipcress File. I can't recall the last time I left a cinema so thoroughly battered and so thoroughly angry about it - probably Aronofsky's hideous Mother! (which I still refuse to put in lower case). I can't recall the last time I had the urge to just get up, walk out of the screening and not look back. Maybe I should have; I'm still wondering.
Climax, like all of Gaspar Noe's films (possibly excepting Seul Contre Tous because I haven't seen it), is not a plot-based movie. The shooting script was only five pages long and to be honest it wouldn't surprise me if the pages were A5 or A6 size because frankly you could get the whole thing on one sheet of foolscap and still leave lots of room for porny doodles. Following a successful rehearsal, a dance troupe wind down with a party, which would be great if someone hadn't spiked the sangria with LSD. From that point on, once the drugs take effect, everyone goes crazy as the party and the film spend the next hour descending into a sexual, violent and/or terpsichorean hell.
It has to be said that the young troupe fling themselves around the room and across the floor with precision and endless energy and, like a genuine stage performance, the big intricately choreographed dance number is done in one single take with no edits, and technically it's a very impressive opening. But Climax climaxes very early on with that third shot of the film: the first is a woman crawling through snow, the second is a static shot of a TV set playing interviews with all the characters (the screen is surrounded with books and VHS tapes that mirror or reference what happens later in the film). And having exhausted itself (and us) very early on it still has an hour or so of hysterical shrieking, deliberately nasty violence (including the brutal kicking of a pregnant woman) and the constant pulse of the soundtrack. You could also suggest that there are way too many characters to keep track of, none of whom are interesting and several of whom you'll want to royally slap the tar out of, but Climax isn't a character-driven film any more than it isn't a plot-driven one (we never find out who actually spiked the punch in the first place, because it doesn't matter).
Let's be fair: maybe there is a level of political allegory involved: the mixture of ethnicities, races, sexualities and attitudes could be a microcosm of French (or world) society as it breaks down - two of the black dancers bring one of the white dancers to the floor and draw a swastika on his forehead. Or maybe there's a religious allegory going on: the DJ is God and humanity/society stops dancing to his/His beat once the sangria (sang = blood) has been polluted? I mean....maybe. But wondering what it means and what things represent just reminds me of Mother! all over again.
And I don't come from the Climax background anyway. Clubs and drugs have never been part of my life and never will be. I also have no connection to that sphere of music: even if some of the names in the endless scroll of music credits were familiar to me (Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, Daft Punk), the tracks themselves certainly weren't. The world of Climax is not my world. But the worlds of most movies aren't my world either: that's the point of movies, but the makers usually allow me a way in. Noe doesn't. So it's not surprising that the film feels like an ordeal: deliberately offputting, deliberately uncomfortable, deliberately and meticulously constructed to make me not like it. If that was the intention, then congratulations: you more than succeeded.
CONTAINS LES SPOILERS