art movies sexuality

“Climax” by Gaspar Noe – my review

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels / free to use

Until about a week or two ago I had no clue about neither the dancer community nor what voguing was. It was then that a colleague of mine briefly shared a few of her observations with me, then I looked up the style on youtube and, for the most part, forgot about it. Yesterday after work, I was wandering around the city, reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming in various cafes, enjoying the sun setting later and later, and I thought: why not go to the movies? My choice was Climax, an improvisational movie, directed and shot by Gaspar Noe, and little did I know what I had actually selected.

In the beginning, I was a little confused, as the choreography was very dynamic, obscurely sexual but not at all sensual as I would have expected. Then I started questioning what in fact was disturbing in it and observing my own reactions. Now that I think about it, my confusion was based on the fact that I did not understand voguing as a dance style. “Voguing came from shade, because it was a dance that two people did because they didn’t like each other. Instead of fighting you would dance it out on the dancefloor” said dancer and choreographer Willi Ninja in Paris is Burning (KQED Art School, 2015). Some sources focus on the ballroom culture in LGBTQ communities of Harlem in the 70s and the haute couture inspiration (Birardi Mazzone G. & Peressini G., 2014), while some explain the “hyper-stylized body” aspect of voguing and their origins in the African American and Latino cross-dresser communities, which became more known as a dance style thanks to Madonna’s 90s song “Vogue” (Halberstam, Livingston, 1995). Having learned the history, and watched multiple performances, and tried duck walking myself for five seconds, my eyes opened a little bit wider with immense respect for the dancers Noe gathered as his cast for Climax. 

First and foremost, the movie was an exceptional dance show. It’s considered a psychological horror and that’s been clear to me from the beginning before I read any descriptions online: it will pull all the dirt out of you and make you lose control along with various characters. It will let you explore your boundaries by letting you see how far you can go in your mind. The film starts with an end scene and closing credits – apparently a Gaspar Noe trademark. Then we get to meet the characters during a casting, talking about their dance journey. The rehearsal takes place in what seems to be an abandoned building. The group performs the dance and then continues to party, drinking large amounts of sangria. Little did they know that the drink was spiked with LSD.

Not only do we follow the characters in their path to realizing that they’ve been given narcotics, but we learn about their personal struggles, weaknesses, we feel their fear. There was a moment when I screamed and cried along with one of the characters, when I wanted to leave the movie theater, but when I opened my eyes, the frame changed, and I stayed. I had put my shoes on and was kept on pins and needles unsure whether the character would return – or not.

Beautifully shot, insane choreography weaved around the vogue style, with pulsating imagery, flashing colors, lighting changing as the plot develops and dives into madness. People disassembling and then devouring each other’s bodies in their minds. You will get into the head of an intoxicated person and ingest her feelings. You’ll be noticing meaningful names, equality of human beings in trance, love turning into twisted lust, and unfulfilled longing – mistaken for lust.

Interestingly, I noticed men portrayed mostly as misogynist testosterone-driven predators, while women could be seen in their various roles, as a friend, girlfriend, mother, mother-to-be, sister, tomboy, liberated sex bomb and more: unattainable and free, both strong and weak, defeated and bestially aggressive.

In my opinion, it is a portrayal of the tiny section of different human emotions often described as the “thin line between”. An appalling scary movie at first glimpse that develops into a learning experience about the boundaries of human nature, if you’re willing to scratch your way a little deeper under the skin of the film. However, be forewarned about explicit sexual scenes, nudity and specifically obscene, objectifying language, direct violence, drug, and alcohol abuse. For these reasons, I do not feel authorized to recommend this movie to anyone.

References:
Birardi Mazzone G. & Peressini G. (2014). Voguing: examples of performance through art, gender and identity. Mantichora.
Halberstam, J., & Livingston, I. (1995). Posthuman bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
School, K. A. (2015, December 15). How to Vogue with Jocquese Whitfield. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lyUvaaxWRY

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