The Male Sentimental
by Liz Kinnamon
The “sensitive guy” should be understood through the lens of what pop psychologists call emotional manipulation, and his proliferation is the result of two things: the rise of feminism and the rise of immaterial labor.
At Cannes 2015, a crowd of hundreds competed for entry into a midnight screening of what was called “the most titillating movie of the year”: Gaspar Noé’s Love. Noé earned a reputation as “world’s most dangerous director” and “cinema’s L’Enfant terrible” due to graphic depictions of rape, violence, and sex in his previous films (Enter the Void, Irreversible, I Stand Alone). But his newest work reputedly sidelined violence in favor of a more intimate portrayal of sexuality, and specifically between people in love. In the words of the lead character, who Noé says is fashioned after he and his friends, this was to be “a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality.”
Since its release, Love has predictably gotten the most attention for its explicit sex, which constitutes about fifty percent of the film’s screen time. The opening scene features the central couple engaged in mutual masturbation and culminates in the male partner’s ejaculation (multiple reviewers write that they masturbate each other to orgasm when in fact there is no indication that she reaches orgasm during the film: it centers fellatio, intercourse, cunnilingus as foreplay); the couple visits a sex club in Paris and enjoys a threesome with a girl neighbor; and viewers are subjected to a penis ejaculating directly at the camera—all of this in 3D (1). Recalling outraged responses to Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)—whose producer is also Love‘s—the movie was controversial at Cannes, with some claiming that the 2 hour and 14-minute film never graduates from pornography to art and others walking out.
The synopsis goes like this: Murphy (Karl Glusman), an aspiring filmmaker from America who now lives in Paris, wakes up to a woman lying beside him and the sound of a baby crying from another room. A voiceover narrates his thoughts upon waking: his life is a nightmare, his house is a cage, he hates this woman he ended up with. Through the fog of a hangover he listens to a voicemail from the mother of an ex-girlfriend he had a falling out with two years before. Electra (Aomi Muyock) is missing, have you been in touch with her? She frantically asks. As his current girlfriend Omi inquires about who called—or rather tries to talk to him at all—he ignores her while the voiceover lashes back, “I wish she’d just shut up,” and later when she asks again, “I’m sick of this bitch. Go take care of the baby and leave me alone.”
He then begins to spiral into a sinkhole of nostalgia about his relationship with Electra. After a series of painfully hampered domestic moments, Omi finally departs with the baby and leaves Murphy to his dejection. As he walks from room to room half-alive, he recalls the day Electra handed him some opium and told him to save it for an occasion when something bad happened and she wasn’t there. Deciding this was the day, he walks over to a shelf, pulls out a baggy stashed in an empty movie case (which happens to be Noé’s I Stand Alone), and swallows the pill. The entirety of the film is based on the present tense setting of that apartment on that day, as Murphy cycles through various flashbacks of their relationship from the beginning to its tempestuous end. The flashbacks are interwoven with scenes of Murphy moping about in the apartment—in bed, on the telephone calling around about Electra, and finally crying in a bathtub doused in red light.
Murphy is tormented by the memory of Electra and the thought that they might never have another chance. Their relationship dissolved because Murphy secretly continued sleeping with the neighbor they invited over for a threesome. When Electra found out by learning that the neighbor was pregnant, she cut ties with him and turned to drugs, leaving him bereft and desperately seeking reconciliation with a person who was now unavailable. But while many cinematic portrayals of suffering tend to soften characters’ unlikable choices, or make the way they hurt others more understandable because they themselves are hurting, Murphy’s pain never quite succeeds at inspiring compassion. In fact, the viewer is not gripped by the conviction that Murphy merely made a mistake, neither is one moved to identify with him—a critique leveled by reviewers from the NYT, Indiewire, and Telegraph. The flashbacks picture him in bed showing a different ex the same puppy-like devotion, and this destabilizes the audience’s faith in the singularity of his feeling for Electra. Viewers also learn that Omi was not his only infidelity. One gets the sense that his “love” could land anywhere and that he’d betray whoever fills the position because of that cocktail of easiness and detachment.
One of the most unsettling parts of the movie is a flashback of a party scene about two-thirds of the way in. Murphy grips a beer bottle by the neck and performs a drunken monologue for a female partygoer while Electra stands by. “Do you know what my biggest dream in life is?” he emphatically asks the girl. “My biggest dream is to make a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality.”
MURPHY: (Gesturing toward Electra) She doesn’t care, she’s heard this a million times before.
GIRL: Yeah, I like it.
MURPHY: You like it?
MURPHY: Why? Why haven’t we seen this in cinema?
GIRL: Yeah. Right, I agree.
MURPHY: I’m sentimental. We should be like babies.
ELECTRA: Are you an actress? (Pointing toward the girl)
GIRL: Yeah, I agree with you.
MURPHY: You’re an actress?
MURPHY: What’s your name?
PAULA: Yeah, Paula, I’m French but I love to speak English.
MURPHY: Yeah well it’s very good. What’s the best thing in life?
MURPHY: (hesitation) Love…And then after that?
PAULA: Sex! (laughter)
MURPHY: Yes, and then you combine the two, and sex while you’re in love. That’s the best thing.
Directly after this dialogue, a stranger asks Electra for a cigarette and Paula takes the opportunity to whisper into Murphy’s ear. “I need to show you something.” He complies and follows Paula, turning to shrug at Electra and leaving her to fend off the stranger’s advances. When they get to the bathroom Murphy gestures at his nose to hint at cocaine, but the girl pulls out a condom from her bag. As she approaches he feigns protest and they fuck on the edge of the bathtub to the sound of Electra knocking on the door. He even reaches up to cover Paula’s moans for fear they will travel, signaling his awareness of wrongdoing; he then subsequently rewrites that gesture by slipping his fingers into her mouth.
When Murphy exits the bathroom he approaches Electra and rubs her arm. “Hey,” he says warmly. She swats at him, “Don’t touch me,” because she knows. But even in the face of her knowledge he persists with his clueless performance by asking her in a concerned tone, “Are you okay?”—mystifying the fact of his infidelity and transferring fault onto her accusatory disposition. He continues to lie to her, not even caving when she inserts her own infidelity as retribution. “I cheated on you with Noé,” she fires back, referring to her ex (a gallery owner who is not only named after the director but played by him as well). This would have been a perfect opportunity for admission and mutual absolution, but at this, Murphy becomes irate and verbally attacks her on the taxi ride home, calling her a whore, an untalented artist, a venomous cunt, and telling her that she’s incapable of being a mother.
Because Murphy is difficult to identify with, a schism is formed between the viewer and Murphy’s plight, and the effect of this distance is that the lead character becomes less of a subject and more like an object whose subjectivity is on display. Midway through the screening I attended, many viewers walked out either offended or bored, but when something is boring it is often a signal to pay closer attention. Noé presents the banal of male dominance in an unflattering and rather arduous light, and Love’s most prominent aspect is not sentiment but the way patriarchy operates through sentiment itself. Noé and Murphy use the term “sentimental” to refer to sensitivity and feelings generally, but a handful of scholars—from Sarah Vap to Lauren Berlant and Saidiya Hartman—zero in on a definition of sentimentality that is constituted by manipulation (2). For Vap and other writers in A Symposium on Sentiment (2012), something is sentimental when it attempts to provoke feeling that is not merited by what is happening; when it is contrived or unrealistic; and when it is “the enemy of emotional complexity.”
Fittingly, a recurrent critique of the film is that the characters lack depth. The New York Times wrote that the movie might be 3D but “in every other respect, it’s exasperatingly one-dimensional.” BBC wrote that Murphy is “all bluster and no depth.” And Indiewire observed, “Noé’s screenplay falls short of offering much dimensionality to Murphy’s laments.” They level these critiques as if the shallow quality of the characters is a failure on the director’s part. While attributing a critical ethic to Noé might be overgenerous, he was not unaware of Murphy’s character; in an interview he described Murphy as a “redneck” who is “more obsessed with partying than doing anything else in life,” in addition to noting that Murphy “pretends he’s sentimental but the guy is not as sentimental as he thinks he is.” What none of the critics entertain is that Murphy’s emptiness might be precisely what is worth focusing on. His dialogue throughout the film is so bromidic and immature, his wretchedness so self-imposed, and his wallowing so unwarranted—and all of it ironically happens at the same time he continues the disregard that led to his initial problems. Even more interesting is that the director simultaneously identifies with his lead character, admitting to Indiewire, “More than half of my friends are in the film industry, because I hang out with directors or visual effects makers, so I decided that I would do a movie about the kind of people that I am or I know.” Noé recognizes himself in Murphy but stops short of any meaningful insight—as if awareness of criticism amounts to exemption from it.
What Love ultimately brings into focus is not love but a twisted and entirely commonplace masculine subjectivity: what I am calling the Male Sentimental. The Male Sentimental is an overarching genre bracketing a variety of characters that have proliferated over recent years: the fuckboy and the softboy; the manchild and Kay Hymowitz’s video-game playing, basement-dwelling, extended adolescent; 2015’s explosive hashtag #masculinitysofragile; “the creative type”; male feminists (see porn actor James Deen, who, when confronted by his girlfriend Stoya regarding rape, called her tears “abusive”); Drake; the manarchist and his variations; the New Man (a la Martin Amis); and what Laura Kipnis calls “the victim.” It is a genre that describes a general mode of patriarchy wherein “feeling [is used to secure] domination” (Hartman) (3). The Male Sentimental operates through a version of sentimentality that is definitionally manipulative, contrived, and simplistic. He wields sensitivity to escape responsibility, disorients others by dissolving their feelings into a smoky haze, and trades in guilt. Rather than emotional, he exists in a constant state of emotional fugitivity. One way of thinking about the Male Sentimental is as a kind of masculinity one dips into or out of—not so much a fixed identity as a method or a practice.
Taking a step further, the tactics utilized by the Male Sentimental are nearly identical to those wielded by—in the lexicon of pop psychology—emotional abusers, manipulators, and blackmailers. The reason Murphy’s behavior at the party is so instructive is because in this single scene, he engages in prototypical behaviors of emotional manipulation from Susan Forward’s 1997 book Emotional Blackmail—from feigned innocence (shrugging as he walks away, retorting “What are you talking about” when Electra calls him out); gaslighting (making her doubt her knowledge by acting confused); the spin (shifting focus from his betrayal to hers and attacking her character and self-worth); and what Forward calls “brandishing anger” (when the sheer intensity of Murphy’s rage overwhelms Electra and the conflict at hand).
Ultimately I am suggesting that a better way of thinking about patriarchy is as emotional manipulation. Characterizing it as misogyny, or “hatred of women,” increasingly misses the mark because it fails at descriptive precision (4). Hatred seems vague, outlandish, or unrelatable and this makes the accusation easy to dismiss. With the rise of feminism’s influence, patriarchy has sought different techniques, echoing Foucault’s belief that politics use a “sort of silent war to reinscribe that relationship of force.” The Male Sentimental can ultimately be seen as the result of a bargain with feminism: one can be a man with feelings, pass the feminist test, and still keep power. Patriarchy operates at the register of emotion where it can’t afford to operate through violence or coercion. In this light it also becomes quickly apparent that the appeal of the sensitive male subject is subtended by his potential for violence. As Eve Sedgwick’s therapist once described her father, “someone who could punish but doesn’t, or whom you can relate to so that he won’t.”
Those who deal with this kind of character—in media representations, op-eds, and narrative tropes—often respond by expressing surprise at the realization that his softness is coverture for misogyny. Some remain undecided as to which aspect of his personality prevails, because the shady jerk and the thoughtful guy couldn’t possibly be the same. But isn’t the Male Sentimental an open secret? Or does he still enjoy success because his very category is one defined by deception? The genre of the Male Sentimental helps us think about the methodology of patriarchy, and in eking out a genre my effort is to constitute “an aesthetic structure of affective expectation” (Berlant).
While one explanation for this shift in patriarchy is the influence of feminism, another concerns the rise of so-called immaterial labor at the turn of the century. Just two years prior to Forward’s book, Daniel Goleman published the now-famous text Emotional Intelligence — which he quickly adapted for the business world as Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in 2001. With these publications, Goleman inaugurated an explosion of emotional intelligence in organizational literature that began in the 1990s and constituted a multi-million dollar industry by 2004. Even though many credit him as the concept’s founder, he admittedly drew on a 1990 essay by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who defined the term as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions … the ability to regulate and alter the affective reactions of others.”
Going back even further, one finds that these authors relied on the early intelligence researcher E. L. Thorndike, whose 1920 essay broke up the homogenous category of intelligence into three different types: mechanical, abstract, and social. His definition of social intelligence had “feminine” built right into it, as this type “shows itself abundantly in the nursery”; in fact, what is common to the work of Thorndike, Salovey and Mayer, and Goleman is that emotional intelligence is mostly the domain of women, and that the motivation for their work is to translate it for men.
From Emotional Intelligence, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, 1990.
For Salovey and Mayer, part of emotional intelligence was what Erving Goffman called “The Arts of Impression Management,” or the ability to control the impressions formed by others. “The skilled impression manager knows when not to attend to the behaviors of others,” they wrote, in an uncanny resemblance to the ethos of institutional risk management (RM) today. Of course, RM exploded during the 1990s too, and was shaped by the simultaneous growth of emotional intelligence. The risk manager, in other words, is emotionally intelligent. Like Murphy in the party scene, risk managers are less concerned with preventing original mistakes than they are with managing others’ responses to them and ensuring their own strength as individuals or institutions. They are tasked with managing the “secondary effects” of primary risks, like reputation and effects of popular protest—as is evident in the hollow administrative speech in recent incidents of sexual assault, racism, and political protest at US universities. The parallels with emotional manipulation are unmistakable here. Risk management is the logic of the Male Sentimental at an institutional level. If one were to place the bullet points on emotional manipulation from Forward’s text alongside those detailing the techniques of risk management, one would be shocked at their resemblance. As patriarchy became more emotionally intelligent, its targets were burdened with wading through emotional manipulation. No wonder The Guardian published an essay in 2016 titled “’Women are just better at this stuff’: is emotional labor feminism’s new frontier?” Neither naturalized female emotional skill nor the existence of emotional labor are new, but perhaps a structure of feeling is giving way to something emergent.
If we take the 1990s as a point of proliferation, we might indulge a slight detour past two examples of the Male Sentimental at the institutional level—moments from both Bush presidencies. The first involves a list TIME published in 1994 of instances when George H. W. Bush cried, titled “Annals of Blubbering.” On this list was the occasion that Bush Sr. had invited Paula Coughlin to the Oval Office. Coughlin was the Navy lieutenant who blew the whistle on what is known as the Tailhook Scandal, in which 140 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officers were accused of sexually assaulting 90 victims at an annual conference. At Coughlin’s testimony in federal court in 1994, she explained, “[Bush] said he had just found out what happened to me and he was very, very, very upset. He said he had a 31-year-old also and (then) he started to cry. I really didn’t know what to do…I didn’t know if I could cry any more.” According to the fascinating last sentence of Coughlin’s testimony, Bush Sr. effectively stole something from her by adding something else: his tears. His display amounted to something like a primitive accumulation of emotion, as this was no longer about Coughlin’s experience but about his ability to feel. He made many promises of repair, including a full investigation, but interestingly, what resulted from this “scandal” was not criminal prosecution of any of the officers involved or any significant overhaul of sexual assault policy in the military. Rather, the outcome was greater access for women into the armed forces. The display of national empathy for survivors in this case enabled the nation to re-up its military capacity by enlisting more women in combat, setting into motion an expansion of the military’s roles for women that that finally became complete in 2015.
In 2008, Bush Jr. presented a Medal of Honor to the parents of a Navy Seal who died in Iraq during the War on Terror. After giving a brief overview of the Seal’s heroism, Bush paused, contorted his face, and made a clunky gesture for the parents to come onstage and accept the medal. He was attempting to visualize his grief in that delay and he continued to do so when the parents arrived onstage. As the mother stood next to him in a pastel pink suit and they waited while a female voice announced the award, Bush made a theater of empathizing with her. Within the space of a few seconds, Bush can be seen tapping her on the leg so that she turns to him to make eye contact. Directly after she smiles and then turns away to face the audience, Bush turns back and takes a finger to the corner of his eye in what looks like the wiping away of a tear (1:19). Bush had gotten her attention to flaunt his emotional reaction to the loss of her son. A few moments later someone hands Bush the medal, and when he passes it over to the parents, they look down soberly at the wooden box that now stands in for their son. These two brief anecdotes of U.S. presidential action by a father and a son call attention to the way in which a peculiar legacy of male sentimentality is woven into the fabric of U.S. Empire, colonialism, and war.
Speaking of legacies, Love has one of its own. Critics balked at Noé’s self-referentiality, since at least three characters in the film directly reference him: Noé the gallery owner (an older, married man), Murphy (the director’s mother’s maiden name), and Murphy’s unplanned son—unsubtly named Gaspar. When Murphy cries in the bathroom toward the end of the film, his son enters and Murphy brings him into the bathtub while the both of them cry. “Forgive me,” he melodramatically sobs to his toddler. The image conjures something like a family lineage. Gaspar Noé, the director, is the baby and the father who asks for the baby’s forgiveness. (Noé actually confessed in an interview that he expected his father to be moved by that scene in the screening, and instead his father said “you went too far.”) Likewise, because the gallery owner is played by Noé, one is prompted to ask about the director’s identification with the older married man who cheats on his wife just as much as his identification with Murphy, who has been betrayed. Sure, the film is a house of mirrors, but perhaps more important than Noé’s particular case of narcissism is what Noé shows us about legacies of masculinity. Each of these characters are ethically bankrupt but their choices, from father to son, are entirely consequential. The Male Sentimental might be a cipher, in the words of the NYT, but his emptiness can destroy the world—whether at the level of generational inheritance or on a global political scale.
Critiques of Noé’s self-referentiality recall charges against “female confessional” writers like Dodie Bellamy and Chris Kraus. The Buddhist and I Love Dick are the kinds of accounts by female writers that are typically considered to be narcissistic, banal, and abject, but because the works interrogate those very accusations, the texts are known for the way they “expose” the machinations of patriarchy at the level of intimate relationships. “Life is not personal,” Kraus wrote. And Bellamy:
To reveal or not to reveal—this is a core question for many writers. This business of women not suffering in public, of having a gag order when it comes to personal drama, such as a break up, connects back to larger histories of suppression, such as the literature of victimization, women not daring to speak of rape or incest [… ] and somewhere buried in there is the history of the wife being owned by her man and therefore she better keep her trap shut, and bourgeois notions of suffering with dignity—or dignity itself, how oppressive a value is that?
Surely with a little rearranging one could suggest that Love is similar in form; the film is a piece of endurance art that asks its audiences to watch the accumulation of male wrongdoing in messy slow-mo, albeit from the perspective of a male protagonist. But what is different about Love and female confessional lit, aside from the fact that the “confessional” piece in the former is written by the one responsible for exploitation, by the one placed at the helm of power? Can a feminist male confessional lit possibly exist?
I want to suggest two major differences. First, consider an argument by Saidiya Hartman in Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. She examines the writings of John Rankin, an abolitionist who argued against slavery by appealing to the white audience’s capacity for empathy. He wrote that he grew indignant at the thought of himself and his family as slaves, urging other whites to imagine themselves in place of the enslaved in order to feel the wrongness of slavery. But Hartman questions whether this process of empathy “ameliorate[s] indifference or only confirm[s] the difficulty of understanding the suffering of the enslaved.” By substituting himself for the black suffering body, what Rankin did was to perpetuate the unfathomability of black sentience. In this case the subject who empathizes merely feels for oneself but fails to “expand the space of the other.” Hartman’s problem with empathy is useful here for the fact that descriptions of suffering are always in relation to the question of empathy, and one could consider whether works of literature that describe male dominance like Kraus and Bellamy’s are attempting to create empathic effects. I would argue, however, that readers would deem the endeavor ineffective if they think these texts attempt to mobilize change through empathy. Alternatively, Kraus and Bellamy are “expanding the space of the other,” they are expanding the space of female subjectivity. The difference between their work and Love’s male confessional lit, in this case, is that masculine subjectivity is already everywhere all the time, and Lovedoesn’t expand it in the sense that it opens up masculinity to better possibilities.
Second, Love differs from female confessional lit because it never imagines another relationship to power. In The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Lauren Berlant coins the term “diva citizenship” to describe the testimonies of Harriet Jacobs and Anita Hill. For Berlant, diva citizenship is when
a member of a stigmatized population testifies reluctantly to a hostile public the muted and anxious history of her imperiled citizenship. Her witnessing turns into a scene of teaching and an act of heroic pedagogy, in which the subordinated person feels compelled to recognize the privileged ones, to believe in their capacity to change; to trust their desire to not be inhuman; and trust their innocence of the degree to which their obliviousness has supported a system of political subjugation.
It might be a stretch to extend the possibility of diva citizenship to a white male character like Murphy. After all, he doesn’t belong to a stigmatized population. But the leap I want to make is that perhaps both Murphy’s character and Love could have been acts of a sort of diva citizenship or at least a variant of parrhesia if they had spun male sentimentality in the light of renouncement. “The real threats,” Elizabeth Gumportwrites about Kraus, “are artists who refuse to stop there—who move from confession, which describes a situation, to analysis, which seeks to explain it.” Noé and Murphy’s sentimentality could have been problematized in such a way that it hailed the appropriate viewers, “trust[ing] their desire not to be inhuman” and offering something other than intransigence. They could have been draft dodgers or deserters. But insteadLove portrays a character who is unwilling to change, both representing and embodying the well-worn masculine mantra “don’t try to change me.” Kraus, Bellamy, Hill, and Jacobs—though very differently from one another—implore society’s dominant actors to change, to learn. They offer information that amasses an archive available to those who are willing. But the lesson and the condition of Love is that power entails a positionality that continues despite consciousness of destroying people and things, of causing suffering. A willed unwillingness. The film lingers on the emptiness at the center of power.
[The title flashes in quotes at the end of the film, as if to mock its own naming.]
The purpose of establishing a genre may be to form a compendium of information and resources for those who choose otherwise, for those who want to change. Is knowledge never corrective? What is its purpose? In the words of Virginia Jackson, genres are “modes of recognition—complex forms instantiated in popular discourse, relying on what we could or would recognize collectively, in common—and so subject to historical change and cultural negotiation.” Forming a genre offers opportunities of attachment and detachment—the way a climber ascertains the next possibilities when scaling a wall. The Male Sentimental might work through negativity, such that one more easily recognizes it or can arrange oneself in relation to it. It at least lays bare the willingness at the start of change.
Piece crossposted with mixed feelings.
1. Mike D’Angelo of The Dissolve is one reviewer who projected mutuality onto the opening sex scene); Nick Schager from The Daily Beast is another. Schager writes: “[Love] opens with a man and a woman pleasuring each other, to completion, in one long, static, unbroken take.”
2. It has been difficult to find much on patriarchy’s use of sentiment as manipulation. Saidiya Hartman writes about the way sentimentality functions in the reproduction of racism, as well as the role of “feeling” in the context of U.S. chattel slavery. Lauren Berlant writes about sentimentality to elucidate its role in national politics. Sarah Vap et al. write about sentimentality’s multiple valences in the realm of poetry, and Vap offers a variety of meanings in The End of a Sentimental Journey that do touch on its connections to gender, though mostly in an effort to challenge female writing as “sentimental.” The co-editors of Sentimental Men (1997) argue that feeling was not always relegated to a feminine realm, but they are interested in breaking down the immediate association of women and feelings. They do not explore the role of sentiment as a technique of manipulation.
3. The mechanism by which white subjects detract from their own racism by retreating into feeling is similar to the Male Sentimental, so the absence of #whitefragility might seem peculiar here. To quote David L. Eng, “liberal white guilt eschews ethical responsibility toward the native other precisely by psychically colonizing its suffering” (2016). But the structures for liberal white guilt and patriarchal sentimentality are not identical. For accounts of the way feeling is mobilized with regard to race, see David L. Eng’s “Colonial Object Relations,” Social Text 126 34 (1), 2016 and Robin D’Angelo’s “White Fragility,” The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3 (3): 54–70, 2011.
4. To the contrary, a common maneuver is to emphasize worship of women: claiming to identify with them, exalting them, or being drawn to strong women in what amounts to a deferral of emotional responsibility and viewing women as sites of respite, what I might shorthand as a womb wish. Beautifully, one reviewer wrote of Love: “as an example of its writer/director’s obsession with rewinding time—back to more blissful early romantic days, if not all the way back to the womb (note its, and Enter the Void’s, views from inside a woman’s birth canal)—Love employs carnal centerpieces for candid self-expression. It’s another step in Noé’s continuing cinematic reversion therapy.”