The Neon Demon

I went to an arty cinema at the Bradford Media Museum to see this film – The Cubby Broccoli cinema to be exact, a name that I thought was inspired by vegetables but have discovered is a film producer. Everything about the experience was crazy. I thought driving into a city for the first time would be the most terrifying thing but that was a piece of cake compared to the film.

It makes me realise that the psychological thrillers I have seen, such as Gone Girl and Before I go to Sleep, are actually very tame! However, The Neon Demon is actually classified on wikipedia as a Psychological Horror so I should have known… It’s a whole different ballgame! I hadn’t actually realised that it’s an 18 and contains serious necrophilia (which means having sex with dead people – don’t google it!) until after the film when my friends laughed at me for being even more naive than Elle Fanning’s character.

It started off mesmerising (although I realised afterwards that that is what’s supposed to happen). Like the tool on Photoshop that changes the hue and saturation, the title sequence was a constantly changing, vibrant colour.

Watch it here:

You can barely tell when the colour is changing; it’s almost hallucinogenic. The music that it is paired with, however, contrasts from the trance like images. Already, the film offers a warning, what you see is not necessarily what you get, but you just can’t look away from the beauty. Even without knowing it, Nicolas Winding Refn is making a comment on the modelling industry. It is consumed with image and will defy anything, even morality, to preserve “beauty”. 

definition of beauty

The way your senses are in battle with each other as you watch the sequence made me realise immediately that the film was a psychological thriller (or horror – sorry wikipedia!). But I was disturbed with how far this genre could be pushed.

Having never been a lover of surrealism, it really did surprise me. I left the film feeling sick to my stomach and actually quite scared about how disturbed the world is. It definitely messes with your head.

The thing that disappointed me or was unfulfilling as an audience member was Jesse’s (Elle Fanning) relationship with Dean (Karl Glusman). It doesn’t go anywhere, but maybe that’s a good thing. In  a world of rom-coms and happy endings, we expect Jesse and Dean to get together. So, when they don’t, the film has once again defied expectations.

elle fanning neon demon2

I guess, in terms of analysis, the film is a tragedy. The film follows the downfall of the protagonist, Jesse, due to her own fatal flaw. Whether this fatal flaw is her naivety or temptation by Hollywood, I don’t know. But what distances it from this formula is that the film is far from ending when Jesse dies. It then follows the other characters (a few models and the necrophiliac make-up artist) that, to be honest, I felt were underdeveloped and unrealistic. But then again, what is real and what isn’t real is one of the film’s major ambiguities. There isn’t a line between normality and abnormality or reality and surrealism. I think that’s why it’s so disturbing. There is an element of reality such as the motel, the potential romance with Dean, the truthful dialogue between Jesse and Dean. But then things happen that are so unexpected because of this false security we’ve been provided with. By the end of the film we perhaps get a sense of how Hollywood feels to these characters. You can’t trust anyone or anything because it will come back and bite you – literally.

The characters eat each other.

By the end of the film I completely expected the model to eat Jesse’s eye ball! Maybe, although at the beginning we were begging Jesse to get out of this situation, we eventually became as desensitised to this world’s horrors as she did. Was her downfall, therefore, being too trusting? She trusted the necrophiliac and that got her killed… But she didn’t trust Dean despite the fact that his intentions were actually all good. So maybe the real tragedy was that she chooses the wrong people to trust. She falls into the arms of her predators when really, in order to stay alive, she’d have been better falling into the arms of Dean.

When I reflect back on the title sequence I realise that it is the neon, drawing you in. Once you get to the demon, it’s too late to turn back. Your innocence and naivety has gone (with Jesse’s) and you feel completely trapped. I wanted to leave the cinema because I couldn’t understand how the film could possibly be classed as entertaining but, at the same time, I was intrigued. I still wanted to see the resolution. But then I realise how stupid that was. The film doesn’t follow any formula. No matter how many times I think I know what’s about to happen, something else throws me off guard. There is no resolution in the film like there is no resolution in life. Things just go on, unstoppable, but if you’re optimistic, the film entirely exploits that, just like Jesse’s naivety.

Having reflected on the film for at least six weeks, and consequently not necessarily providing the most accurate details from the film, I have come to a conclusion about the actors’ involvement. Having been very interested in acting myself, I can’t imagine doing this film. Although it challenges every aspect of our society, perhaps why it is so unsettling, I think that Elle Fanning wanted to be seen as “fresh meat”. I think she wanted to remodel and rebrand herself, but whether she needed to go to this extreme is questionable.

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