Arrow Video: Existence is a Fleeting Illusion: Climax (2018)

Gaspar Noé is known for being a provocateur, and his filmography has explored many transgressive themes over the years. His last film Love (2015) was more subdued and low-key and Climax (2018) is his joyous and visceral return to form.

Climax is centered around a dance troupe who is rehearsing for an upcoming show in an empty school building. After an exhilarating practice they decide to stick around and unwind, sharing food and drinks. Unbeknownst to them, someone has spiked the communal sangria with a large dose of LSD and as the hallucinogen starts to kick in each dancer has a markedly different reaction to it with responses ranging from euphoria to violent urges and everything in between.

The first act of the film is an extended highly choreographed dance number with absolutely fantastic performances. Noé comprised the cast entirely out of real life dancers (a diverse bunch with all different races, genders, and sexual orientations represented), the best he could find in France, and their skills are mesmerizing to watch. The rest of the film is peppered with the dancers improvising and doing whatever feels natural to them, and it gives it a hedonistic atmosphere. There is quite a bit of character set-up that I wasn't expecting, but I appreciated it later on in the film as there is a lot of foreshadowing that gets a pay-off. While the point-of-view of the film shifts focus from time to time, the main protagonist seems to be a young woman named Selva (Sofia Boutella) who unfortunately is having a bad reaction to the LSD and who oscillates between hysteria and anger throughout the film.

Noé's films always have particular attention given to their score and sound design and he has outdone himself with Climax. The film takes place in the '90s so the soundtrack features both old and new tracks from electronic groups from that era--Daft Punk contributed some songs as well as Aphex Twin. Music aside, once shit starts to hit the fan the soundscape includes orgasmic screaming, fearful wailing, crying, and shouting, as well as some industrial sounding ambient noises. As the narrative continues and the party atmosphere transitions over to the the chaotic hellscape the sound follows suit. The visuals are just as amazing with interesting uses of light and color. Noé lights the films with bright primary colors with green and red being used the most. The last third of the film is shot entirely with a red filter and it's an incredibly intense experience.

There is a sequence where the film shows candid interviews of all the dancers and it's shown on a CRT television book-ended on both sides with stacks of films and books. Noé has always been transparent with his influences and it was fun to read the titles he had on display: short films from Kenneth Anger, Possession (1981), Eraserhead (1977), Suspira (1977), books by Friedrich Nietzsche etc. If I were to speculate on the most direct influence it would definitely be Andrzej Żuławski's Possession, with one sequence in Climax echoing the infamous subway freak out scene from Żuławski's film.

Climax feels like one of Noé's most personal and heartfelt works and it ruminates on the temporary nature of life and emotions. What happens when all emotional walls are removed and people are left exposed and vulnerable? Each character reacts to this in a different way, with one becoming overcome with lust for a taboo lover, another one wanting to commit suicide, and yet another who just lets themselves drift into the drug haze quietly dancing by themselves paying no mind to the others. It's like a microcosm of how people deal with life in general, but localized in one building and with a small group of people. Life is alternatively ecstasy and pain, joy and sadness, love and hate, a roller coaster of highs and lows. Even with all of this it's worth living, just to say you existed.


-High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
-5.1 DTS-HD MA Audio
-Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
-Audio commentary with writer-director Gaspar Noé
-An Antidote to the Void – a brand new interview with Gaspar Noé
-Performing Climax – newly-produced featurette comprising interviews with actors Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic and Souhelia Yacoub
-Disco Infernal: The Sounds of Climax – Alan Jones, author of Saturday Night ---Forever: The Story of Disco and Discomania, offers up a track-by-track appreciation of the Climax soundtrack
-Shaman of the Screen: The Films of Gaspar Noé – a brand new video essay by writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas looking as Gaspar Noé's evolution as a filmmaker
-Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel alongside the original press kit.

--Michelle Kisner