The Neon Demon Nicholas Winding Refn (2016 Fr, Dk, USA)

The Neon Demon Nicholas Winding Refn (2016 Fr, Dk, USA)

The Neon Demon Nicholas Winding Refn (2016 Fr, Dk, USA) Elle Fanning, Christina
Hendricks, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves

Tyneside Cinema 25 July 2016; ticket: £9.15

goodbye ‘Nevernever Land’ hello ‘Whatever Land’

Nicolas Refn’s the Neon Demon is a conceit of a very contemporary nature: form without content. Completely dedicated to the stylised image it could almost be an advert for some sort of Apple product. In one sequence model Jesse is positioned in front of a huge dazzling saturated white backdrop which almost seems to envelop her with its cold sensuality. As she poses in this setting, she is painted gold by the fashion photographer, I expected a gold Apple iPhone to somehow appear and transfix itself into the scene. The setting was perfect opportunity for product placement.

Neon Demon is very much the product of the Apple generation, a parallel cinematic form of the mediated reality that permeates and defines the iPhone life style in which life is not experienced directly but only indirectly through a screen which accesses image and information. Screen takes the place of life. Gazing becomes living.

The cool.

Refn wants to make a cool film. He only requires of his audience that they watch the screen with detached interest as he invents and shows a succession of locational architectural backdrops accessed by tracking shots down narrow runs walkways and corridors. He then fills the spaces with content. It doesn’t matter what the content is. The only point of the content is as a product to attract the gaze. Colour, eye catching interiors, blond women from the parallel universe, violence, sex, blood, cannibalism etc. The more transgressive the image the less it affects. In fact there is an inverse relationship between the extremity of Refn’s provocations and the intensity of audience reaction. Penetrative necrophilia, eyeball eating become “plaisirs des yeaux”, bagatelles. The important thing about the content is that it should be and is vacuous, empty. The scenario develops situations, events, actions in which the audience cannot invest with meaning. ‘Never never’ land becomes ‘Whateverland’.

Into this refined space, characterised often simply by colour and architectural form, Refn promotes Jesse, who is in many ways rather like an Apple product. Jesse is blond shimmering white and perfectly designed by nature. She does not attract empathy as she is a decontextualised product. She tells that her parents are ‘gone’ but otherwise she is carefuly screened to remove the personal. She is an object to be gazed at. Like the objects in the Apple universe, admired as image. Like a product, Jesse has little to say about or for herself. She lets other people do the talking. It is for others to fill her out with their projections.

For the most part Jesse is the subject of other people’s observations and desires. Jesse has such beautiful skin hair nose. She is just so perfect. And desired. They want to suck her. (except her boyfriend) As heterosexual sex, except abusive rape (suggested but not realised in a dream sequence), wouldn’t fit with the extreme product design, Refn and his writers, have gone for a baroque rendering of that old movie stand-by: Lesbian Cannibals from Outer Space. And the final sequence of the film plays out with a series of grotesque tableaux, like some kind of 18th century masque, of the hunting killing and eating of Jesse by a group of deranged other worldly blond coat hangers.

The Neon Demon, is not a horror film or anything like that. Refn has made film that is produced for the state of mind that is characteristic of certain patterns of contemporary consumption. A state of mind that finds significance in objects and products, and by engaging in life through the isolating filter of a screen that is detached but desirous of visual excitement through image. As Marshall McLuhan observed: the Medium is the Message. And how ‘cool’ is that? Adrin Neatrour

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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