It must have been all those blood rivers, necrophilia, violence and cannibalism to shock Cannes’ audience who catcalled The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn eleventh full length film.
Of course, if you consider these elements superficially, as an aim and not as a means of communication, it doesn’t surprise that the movie has been so hardly criticized.
It’s only putting those ingredients in a complex and wider clockwork that you can appreciate this artwork.It’s indeed the assembly that transforms TND in a pitch perfect motion picture.So, lets break up, without spoilering, this machine to closely observe every single piece of the whole.
Violence in any form is what mostly remains in the viewer’s mind. Refn is used to exploit this means in his movies and, actually, in comparison with the past, there’s surely more blood to flow, but “practical” violence is less manifest.
The Neon Demon is indeed a psychological thriller in which the main character is innocent beauty, performed by the young actress Elle Fanning (Jesse). When she meets with envy, its rival par excellence interpreted by Abby Lee (Sarah), Isabella Heathcote (Gigi) and a very talented Jena Malone (Ruby), detonation is unavoidable.
The author depicts this clash through harsh metaphors which develop progressively during the movie, moving from a daily and actual Los Angeles to a surreal and unsettling one.
In this way, for example, anthropophagy represent willingness to “be who you eat”, the ability to obtain his or her beauty exploiting, in the most pragmatic manner, the victim’s blood or body.
Cannibalism itself, at the finale climax, is revealed as something you have to be “able to digest”. Envy and fight for beauty brings consequences and only those who are truly cynical will be able to stand them.
In the same way, the necrophilia scene stand for the willingness to obtain something at all costs, something so distant or inaccessible but deeply longed. It’s only bypassing in an unbridled manner every obstacle that you’ll be able to touch lightly beauty; at least with your imagination.
Refn describes catwalks’ competition dynamics in a sharp way through rough metaphors to show us that the world (especially fashion world) is not for the weaks.
Neon Demon’s young characters, accurately chosen by the cast directors, perform effectively each one her part. The females role play perfectly emerges, reminding us dynamics comparable with those shown in David Lynch’s masterpiece “Mulholland Drive”. Jena Malone, who interpret Ruby, deserves a special mention: she play a weird make up artist in a sly and, all through the movie, more and more inhuman way.
The male characters symbolize the severe judges of female competition. Tasteful stylist Alessandro Nivola choses his models carelessly despising those who are not beautiful enough to join his “fashion harem”; Photographer Jack McArthur, performed by Desmond Harrington, freezes Jesse, Sarah and Gigi with his cold gazes and few words; a rude Keanu Reeves, who plays the Motel manager, is the reincarnation of coolness, the perfect exploiter.
In this testosterone unscrupulous context, female characters fight to be accepted and to be noticed, at least before they get too old.
The direction is extraordinary. If Refn already accustomed us with “Drive”, here he chose to travel not only through real, but also imaginary scenarios, allowing him to highlight his expressive ability. In the most metaphoric moments, geometric icons appear in the dark. Jesse’s mental trips, scattered with blue and red (neon) lights, remind us Bowman’s “2001: a space odyssey” trip into the unknown.
Dexterous Cliff Martinez gives life to a perfect soundtrack which the movie cannot be divided from.It is a part of the whole.
Music becomes a screenplay’s cornerstone. It is fundamental as much (if not more than) the dialogues and it stands as another essential character of the plot. Perfectly selecting sweet and symphonic sounds to depict innocent Jesse and luxurious electronic catwalk’s beats to portray, in a spooky and disturbing tones escalation, the cruelty of fashion world, Martinez maneuvers the music alternating Vangelis-like ambient tracks and obscure tunes which remind works like those released by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for many David Fincher’s recent movies.
To sum up, The Neon Demon is one of the most “iconographic” movies in recent years (Thomas Sotinel). Perfectly assembled, it may look a bit too long, like some danish director previous works. The finale, moreover, may appear as an excessive gore climax, but the movie message represent authentically the competitive world it wants to describe.
Hardly disapproving Neon Demon for the massive use of bloody, violent metaphors, it’s not only out of place, but it’s also bigoted. It’s a sign of the widespread critical aridity of many spectators who seem not able to go beyond the mere surface of an artwork. Many recognized that the metaphoric game behind the movie does not necessarily imply that, for instance, anthropophagy is actually put in place: it’s good to think the director gives latitude to imagination and that such a cruel antagonism here described is just an allegory of the way real competition take place in every day life.