I have enjoyed most of the Nicolas Winding Refn films I've seen. I love
both Bronson and Drive. I tried to like Only God Forgives, but
couldn't. I came into The Neon Demon with neutral expectations. I
walked out of the end credits disgusted with myself for not having left
The Neon Demon is vapid, soulless trash. It is despicable drivel. It is irresponsible. It is made without a sense of accountability to taste or reason. It is a bafflingly inept attempt at surrealism, where caricatures are passed off as characters, and bright, pretty lights and colors as compelling imagery. The potentially interesting (if trite) theme of the moral and emotional emptiness of the modeling industry is presented in a laughably inane way, as if it were a fresh, vital artistic insight.
If Only God Forgives was nudging audience members in the ribs a bit too hard, The Neon Demon kicks us in the groin. Repeatedly.
This is true both in the film's style and content. I'm a firm believer that any subject can be dealt with in a film. There is a line of decency and human concern that is usually difficult to discern, and is obviously highly subjective. Shocking scenes will often polarize viewers, and, usually, there are legitimate points to be made on either side. Neon demon goes miles over that line. There is no defense for a scene where over the course of what I would estimate to be a couple minutes of screen time, a woman molests a female corpse. The audience sees and hears almost everything. I won't go into further detail. Unfortunately, Refn did. If this weren't bad enough, this footage is intercut with an abstract representation of the woman's fantasy about an underage girl who earlier rejected the woman's advances. The girl is 16 in the film, and Elle Fanning was either 16 or 17 at the time of filming.
I don't consider myself a prude when it comes to dark topics in film. As I said, I firmly believe there are tasteful (or at least acceptable) ways to handle any issue through the medium of film. An example of a film which is uncompromising in depicting evil and yet doesn't cross the line is The Silence of the Lambs. However awful the acts of Hannibal or Buffalo Bill are in that movie, the film is made from a place of heart, of empathy for the victims, a place of humaneness. It doesn't revel in the crimes of its villains. We are meant to be sickened by them. When Hannibal clobbers a policeman (nearly?) to death, the director is very selective in what we see, focusing in on Lecter's demonic glee. It's a thrilling, gut wrenching scene. In Neon Demon's necrophilia scene, everything is fair game. A large part of the reason this scene is so reprehensible to me is that it seems almost as if it's meant to be titillating.
I wonder: How would this film have been received if the necrophile were a man molesting a female corpse?
It's disheartening to me that a small minority of people seeing this film actually like it. I can't help but think (and hope?) that they're simply fooling themselves, that their affection for Refn's previous, far superior films is being unduly extended over this one. As with Only God Forgives, perhaps the cinematography is distracting enough for them to forgive its fundamental storytelling flaws.
But even though I found The Neon Demon intermittently nice to look at, and in spite of my adoration for the genius of Drive and Bronson, I hate this film. Even if I was to pretend there was no sickeningly indulgent necrophilia scene, or other lingering, exploitative shots which directly contradict the premise that the film is an indictment of the male gaze, I would still hate this film, simply because it is so bad.
The Neon Demon
Action / Horror / Thriller
The Neon Demon
Action / Horror / Thriller
The sixteen year-old aspiring model Jesse arrives in Los Angeles expecting to be a successful model. The aspirant photographer Dean takes photos for her portfolio and dates her. Jesse befriends the lesbian makeup artist Ruby and then the envious models Gigi and Sarah in a party. Meanwhile the agency considers Jesse beautiful with a "thing" that makes her different and she is sent to the professional photographer Jack. Jesse attracts he attention of the industry and has a successful beginning of career. But Ruby, Gigi and Sarah are capable to do anything to get her "thing".
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September 19, 2016 at 08:15 PM