I’m afraid auteur might even be an understatement for Nicholas Winding Refn. His first major film is his only universally appreciated film. Every major work since has been a cosmos of stylistic violence and stark imagery. Maybe it’s because of his partial colour-blindness and the way he that he compensates his art for himself. Visually, it’s not just about fleshing out the colours but making the colours his flesh. The Neon Demon pushes that envelope. It’s certainly not subtle nor obscure and doesn’t quite deliver on the final bang. The Neon Demon is a visual feast of colour and style, marked by luscious exteriors of fuchsia and neon, whilst harnessing an intoxicating mixture of repressed jealousy and insatiable ego. For the ones who loathe the guy, this is a superficial film about superficial people. And for the ones who love him, we love it because it makes us writhe in our seats…hoping still that the movie could have been better. The scary thing is that for it to be better, it would have been darker than it already was.
Credit to Eileen for the awesome poster art. Her work is always so awesome and badass :)) Love the minimalist touch!
Refn’s best movie Drive was a rare silver lining. Let’s be honest, other than the romantic scenes between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, the style was roughly still the same distant approach. Maybe it’s the warmer color scheme. But Drive was such an affecting movie that demanded our affection and sympathies even when it’s protagonist hardly spoke nor smiled. The long drive was a cold one that somehow managed to find the warmth in our hearts. Here, Refn abandons all prospect of redemption. Exploring the world of beauty and image, contrast and imagery are overdosed and have gone for a wild psychedelic ride. True beauty seems like a paradox because there’s always a more beautiful version, seemingly always out of grasp…always better and ultimately a figment of perception. As if that isn’t one that gets people crazy, The Neon Demon materializes that picture perfect you in a real life somebody else named Jesse. Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? The Snow White fable has been purged. Refn’s film is steeped in the world of the perverse and sews the fabric of beauty upon itself. At first I was quite bummed out I didn’t get to watch it earlier, but it really fits the halloween vibes.
*Some spoilers and analysis ahead in the following paragraph*
By transforming unattainable beauty and internal jealousy, mere intangible themes, into an actual real character, the movie takes an interesting route. Jesse, played by Elle Fanning, is great in her role. Progression on her part was really powerful. Her innocent expressions contrasted nicely with her entranced gazes of wonder that turned quickly to shades of contempt and pride. Almost too quickly. And that’s where I have a problem with the film. Because if your symbol of pure beauty is now sullied, how then would the irony arise? The very purpose of Jesse (at least in my interpretation) was to show how even if there was an actual physical rendition of ‘pure beauty’, that it would be destroyed because this perfection was singular . If Jesse had remained innocent till the end, it casts an even greater shadow on the depths of human nature…what we can’t have, we destroy. And once we destroy them, as Refn shows the graphic truth, we will embody that something in the only carnal ways (superficial too) we understand.
With his object of purity quickly polluted by the trappings of her society, this unattainable image is less striking, the jealousy less powerful and the ironic force is less deadly. Argh man, the movie got everything right even in its very last scene of grotesque horror…if only she had been remained innocent,the message would have been rammed home! That’s pretty much all the gripe I have with the film because I loved the rest. Constant mirror shots were in your face (ha!) and well deliberated. Blood was really fluid and by that I mean it’s imagery was transfigured nicely from one thing to another that really conveyed its message. I even liked what the only two obscure metaphors (leopard and stacked triangles) hinted at though its really open to interpretation. But all of this is just fluff. These are just words I use to describe what I can’t visually re-create for you. The Neon Demon is a fantastic cinematographic feat even as it sits on the pedestal of depravity. Bold contrasts coupled with Cliff Martinez’s vibrating synthwave soundtrack is a non-stop flickering thrill that burns right through to its pitch black finish. As mentioned earlier, a better version might lie in the film becoming even more nilhilistic and I’m not sure even I could handle that.
But that seems to be where Nicholas Winding Refn likes to sit himself pretty and proliferate his art; The area where an even more extreme version of his already outlandish style makes it even better. The Neon Demon is not Drive’s equal but it’s certainly a commendable effort. So yes, to all the haters, I relish whatever sick thrills that Refn has in store for us. Because even if the style is disgustingly visual and searingly unsavoury, there is something liberating about it. But take my word for it. The Neon Demon is one man’s meat and another one’s poison. Quite literally too.