CLIMAX: The Psychedelic Lie Detector Test
An open adaptation based on a real occurrence, Gaspar Noé’s Climax recounts the events that unfold after a French dance troupe consumes sangria spiked with LSD. As the film progresses, the vibrance of the dancers morphs into a twisted, dark energy that mirrors their own personal insecurities. Fear, and a healthy dose of acid, obliterate the fragile personas the dancers have conditioned themselves to front. Terror evokes their true nature.
Actor Romain Guillermic embodies the vain essence of his character David with ease. David’s actions, from the cool swagger of his walk to his sultry glares, unravel more aspects of his identity than his dialogue. The destruction of David’s relationship with Selva mirrors the demolition of his own façade. At the beginning, David holds the power in the relationship— soliciting forced kisses from Selva and orating sex stories about her to Omar with sly authority.
As the effects of the hallucinogen manifest, Selva ends the relationship on her own terms. After Selva forsakes David, his arrogance at the start of the film dissolves into veiled insecurity.
David’s desire for control stems from severe abandonment issues, and he seeks emotional refuge in a host of characters, including Riley (Lakdhar Dridi). Riley’s relationship with David is important because it reveals David’s inhibitions at his most depraved state.
David rejects the same-sex advances countless times throughout the movie, but as the fear of isolation unveils his innate nature, he scavenges for Riley at the end. The subtle suggestion is made that David’s bottled anger could be a result of internalized homophobia, but I reckon he’s just one very fucking horny dude.
Brother and sister duo Gazelle and Taylor exhibit a complex relationship in Climax. As played by Giselle Palmer and Taylor Castle, the siblings bicker and fight throughout the beginning of the film. Taylor attempts to exert control over his little sister’s sexual escapades, much to her dismay. Fear, as if a self-revealing truth serum, exposes Taylor as a scorned lover instead of an overprotective brother; the LSD was a mere inhibitor. The fear of losing Gazelle to other men agitates the monster trapped within Taylor. Not only do the pair have sex, but Taylor’s fears propel him to almost kill David over Gazelle.
As the influence of the LSD wanes, Taylor’s artificial front returns for a brief moment. Fear reclaims its stronghold over Taylor at the end of Climax and eviscerates his façade for good. As he begs Gazelle to forget about the previous night and never tell their father, Taylor implies he remembers the events in lucid detail. Once again, the fear of losing Gazelle to the judgment of his father ignites the perverted monster beneath his skin, however this time, the monster can no longer go back in hiding.
Climax succeeds through its subtle application of the camera as an agent in the story. The pace of the narrative is contingent upon elaborate swish pans, long takes, diagonal and inverted shots, and elevated bird’s-eye views. The camera becomes a bystander—a witness to the chaos that unravels once fears are tested.
Noé employs intentional mechanisms to unnerve viewers in Climax, but refrains from outright examples of political examination. Noé produces a visceral image of life at a disastrous moment with very little calculations; most of the moments on screen, in fact, are unscripted. Noé is not known for accidental parables and profound social commentary, but Climax makes an assertive suggestion about human nature… if fear doesn’t expose your true inhibitions, dropping acid sure will.