I have watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon two times now, and the movie still mesmerizes me.
For those who haven’t yet seen it, here is the synopsis:
When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
The movie is a smorgasbord of images, juxtaposed with haunting music to create a thriller/horror film, in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby and The Ring. It is frightening by virtue of the creation of atmosphere; you feel that something is wrong, even during a seemingly innocent discussion at a party.
This horror movie is not purely meant to scare; the idea of beauty interweaves throughout the film. What is beauty? How important is it? Can it be manufactured? It’s not exactly rocket science to use models in an analysis of the concept of beauty, but I would argue that this discussion is done well.
There are just enough ideas presented; Refn is not going to spoon feed you this movie. The viewer cannot just sit idly and watch this movie, but is forced to think about what is being presented, to actively participate. Refn’s refusal to dumb down his movie by forcing words into a character’s mouths to tell you exactly what he thinks and exactly why he created this film probably explains the divided opinions about this movie. A little more than half of critics and viewers seem to like this movie, with a myriad of others writing that it is “vapid” and “empty.” I would argue that it is not the film that is vapid and empty, although the movie may appear to be so if you do not actually watch it (which includes thinking about what you are seeing, not just gluing your eyeballs to the screen).
The choice of Elle Fanning to play the naivete, Jesse, at first perplexed me. Elle is, undeniably, pretty. But a supermodel? I’m still not entirely convinced.
I do, however, see that she presents herself almost as a blank slate, very well. I am sure that Elle is a wonderful person, but she generally comes across as… not very intelligent, in the roles I have seen her in lately. In Maleficent, she seems like a beautiful, happy little idiot. It’s hardly surprising that she falls into an eternal slumber by voluntarily stabbing herself with a needle that’s not even proffering a fun experience, like heroine.
In The Neon Demon, it’s not quite clear if Jesse is a “doe in the headlights” or simply a “blank slate.” Is she keeping her thoughts to herself, or does she really not have any? And what does it mean that photographers and fashion designers cannot get enough of her?
I find this movie absolutely fascinating, and keep turning it over in my mind. Have you seen it? What were your thoughts?