Love (2015) is a highly reflexive film that says as much about writer-director Gaspar Noé (I Stand Alone, Irreversible, Enter the Void) as it does about its diegetic world. Its protagonist, Murphy (Karl Glusman), is (like Noé) a young, foreign-born (American rather than Argentinian) filmmaker who moves to France to make films. Murphy becomes involved in a highly charged relationship with a young French artist named Electra (Aomi Muyock). Their relationship ruptures after they invite a teenage neighbor, Omi (Klara Kristin), to have a threesome with them.
Murphy’s name is overtly connected with “Murphy’s Law” by the tagline of the film. Electra is literally a Freudian reference: after she tells him that she “doesn’t really talk to” her mother and doesn’t think she can introduce him to her conservative father, Murphy replies, “Electra has a daddy complex.”
Noé’s self-reflexivity in this film is as much self-parody as it is narcissistic gratification for the director. Murphy’s vision as a filmmaker mirrors that of Noé: “I want to make movies out of blood, sperm, and tears. This is like the essence of life and I think movies contain that, should be made of that” (spoken to Electra, who replies, “Oh, how sweet!” in an ironic tone). Later, Murphy says that his biggest dream is to make “a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality . . . sex while in love”. He says this to an actress he has just met at a party — while with Electra. He goes off to the bathroom and has sex with the actress, then proceeds to lie about it to Electra.
In a further reflexive twist, Murphy names his newborn son “Gaspar”. Murphy’s favorite movie (“the reason I want to be a director”) is 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, one of Noé’s major sources of inspiration. Noé (as “Aron Pages”, an anagram of his full name) appears in the film as a character named Noe, an art gallery owner who is Electra’s former boyfriend. Thus Noé is identified as her Oedipal father as well as Murphy’s son.
There is also a palpable intertextuality to Love. For example, it quotes the mixed sexuality and spirituality of Enter the Void (specifically in the shot of a penis ejaculating inside a vagina, seen from the POV of the cervix). A scene in a DVD store reflects the critical controversy about Noé’s films and those of other New French Extremity directors: they are made by filmmakers who are either “sick” (Electra) or “unafraid” (Murphy).
Noé’s fourth feature film, Love potentially marks a turning point for the writer-director. It looks back at Noé’s previous, transgressively sexual and violent work and forward to possibilities for his future films. For those who would like to view this simultaneously retrospective and speculative film, it’s currently streaming on Netflix.