‘Climax’ is familiar territory for Gasper Noe. Controversial. Bold. Experimental. Dizzying. Climax is everything that you would want to in a Gasper Noe film — and the some. The only difference, this time he is also musical, which only ends up elevating the film. Many people question the reason as to why experimental cinema should be encouraged. To them, I say, watch ‘Climax’.
Noe gained worldwide fame (or ill fame) after ‘Irreversible‘. A film that many hate; and as many love. It created a furore when it first premiered at Cannes, so much so that several members of the audience walked out from the screening. Some were even left sick. Surprisingly, ‘Climax’ has been much warmly received in comparison. Not that climax is any less controversial, but it seems like critics have come to expect the unexpected from Noe. And that helped several, including me, to go into the film with an open mind and come out with a smile. Yes smile! Not just me, but I saw several other critics smiling when after the lights came on. The reason many of us were smiling because we were amazed by the audacity of Noe to have pulled off a film that has no right even being remotely fascinating. How on earth can someone blend EDM, drugs, dance, suspense, blood, sex, incest and still create a coherent film? But by using the same tricks he has used in his previous films — that is by involving audiences in the scene on the screen rather than the story — Noe keeps you engaged from beginning to the end.
Climax is about a troupe of young dancers who gather in a remote building to rehearse a dance performance. Following an unforgettable opening performance, the troupe begins an all-night celebration. The diverse group has several personal issues and share gossip about one another during the celebration.
As the night progresses, several dancers in the group get agitated and confused. Soon it is revealed that their sangria has been spiked with LSD. First the group accuse Emmanuelle, the organizer of the event, of spiking the punch but she states that she also drank it so there’s no reason it would be her. With the situation quickly spiraling out of control, Emmanuelle locks her young son Tito in an electrical room to segregate him away from agitated dancers. Some members in the group then allege that Omar, one of the dancers, of spiking the drink because he hadn’t drunk anything. Soon, they throw Omar out in the cold.
Selva, the lead dancer, notices her friend Lou is withdrawn. After an argument with one of the dancers, David, who intends to sleep with all the women in the group, Selva follows Lou to her room where Lou confesses she hasn’t drunk the sangria as she fears she is pregnant. One of the dancers, Dom, enters and heavily affected by the spiked drink, accuses Lou of spiking the drink. She kicks Lou several times in the stomach and leaves, On her way out she comes across dancers Alaya and Jennifer fighting over Jennifer’s cocaine and her refusal to share it. Ultimately the fight leads to a terrible situation in which Jennifer’s hair is set on fire.
Hurt by all the violence directed at her, Lou confronts Dom with a knife but the other dancers believe Dom’s story of Lou spiking the drink. Lou becomes paranoid about everything and starts to mutilating herself with the knife. The effect of LSD keeps of increasing and soon the place turns into absolute chaos. Meanwhile, Emmanuelle realizes that she has lost the key to free her son. As she searches for the key, the lights go out indicating that Tito has touched the electrical wires and has died. By now, the dancers have descended into insanity and anarchy.
Selva, who had been in control of herself till then, also starts to hallucinate. She eventually takes hooks with with Ivana and has sex with her. David walks into them but decides to leave. On his way, he encounters Gazelle in the bathroom where her brother Taylor is attempting to have sex with her. Gazelle sets herself free from Taylor and stumbles into the central hall and find all the dancers, out of their minds, either having sex with one another or beating each other. Taylor somehow gets hold of Gazelle and takes her to his room. Meanwhile, David is attacked by another dancer and is knocked unconscious.
When police arrive the next morning, they find all the dancers unconscious. They find that Omar has frozen to death outside while Emmanuelle has killed herself outside the electrical room where her son was locked. As the police search the building, Ivana’s girlfriend Psyché wakes up and drops drugs into her eyes. Meanwhile, Lou is writhing outside in snow laughing uncontrollably.
The Ending: Who Spiked the Sangria?
Theory 1: In the end after police arrive, we are shown that Psyche is alone inside a room, dropping some kind of drug in her eyes. If you pay close attention, there is also a book in her room titled “LSD Psychotherapy”. Now, this could be a big clue that Noe left for the viewers. Did Psyche put the PSD in the sangria to experiment on how the group reacts to LSD? Well, I feel this is a very likely scenario, especially considering why else would there would be a book titled “LSD Psychotherapy” in her room? Clearly, she had read something about LSD and psychotherapy that she wanted to test on the group. Also, while all others in the group completely lost their mind, Psyche was relatively in control during the whole night. She clearly was a heavy LSD user as evident from her taking the drugs through her eyes. So, it seems very likely that she was the one who spiked the drink because 1. she didn’t particularly care about the aftereffects and 2. she was into some kind of alternative psychotherapy through LSD.
Theory 2: Apart from Psyche, there was another person in the group who was completely in control of himself during the night: Taylor. While the world was going crazy around him, Taylor had just one intention in his mind: to have sex with his sister. So, did Taylor intentionally put LSD in the drink so he could sleep with his sister while rest of the group hardly realize what’s happening around them. This theory is supported by the fact that Taylor clearly did not drink the sangria. All throughout the night, he was trying to seduce his sister. It seems very likely that he might have tried to seduce her before and was unsuccessful. So, he came up with the plan to mix LSD in everyone’s drink and take advantage of the situation. In the end, he does succeed in his mission, and is able to sleep with his sister.
Obviously, Noe wanted the climax to be open for interpretation. That’s why he only leaves a couple of clues, but never really divulges who actually spiked the drink. You will need to watch the film at least a couple of times to really make sense of all the chaos on-screen. And if you observe closely, you will notice that there is a method behind all the madness.
While I am sure many will be repulsed by the film, I was engrossed right till the end. Initially by the captivating dance routines — magnificently choreographed and amazingly well-shot — and later by the sheer madness that ensues. Noe surely was in an experimental mode — as he always is — when he made the film, but little must he have known that his crazy experiment will actually turn out to be his best film till date. If you want someone to never touch drugs in their life, show them ‘Climax’. It is the best anti-drug film ever made!