Today I watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon (2016)
Elle Fanning plays aspiring model Jessie, who may be young, but can’t help turning heads with her ‘natural’ beauty. Despite being in Los Angeles for only a hot second, she is soon signed to a major agency and finds herself working with top people in the industry. What follows is Refn’s typically slow and image based delivery of extremely long and static takes of extremely beautiful imagery, meditating on ideas of aesthetics and fashion. Through it all ideas of objectification make their disturbing presence known as this fashion world reveals a great pit of darkness within human nature and a bizarre predator/prey relationship is made apparent in our vicariousness.
I don’t think that this film has a simple message about beauty or aesthetics or objectification or any of that, I think with this film Refn offers us a meditation on those themes without a concrete takeaway. The film is a progressively more surreal and nightmarish look at these ideas that certainly highlights the brutality and emotional vulnerability found in the quest for aesthetic perfection but it also celebrates it’s own subject matter, certainly there are no film makers with such an over the top sense of imagery as Refn. As much as Refn celebrates the visual, he also highlights the artificiality of said visuals, for example in an early scene Jessie claims to have natural hair only to show obvious roots throughout the rest of the film.
Refn does not seem to offer a conclusion to these ideas, maybe because of how we are all at once attracted to beauty but often repulsed by the extremes often used to attain it. He does offer up many tasty morsels of thought in the form of compelling images though, images like doing make up for corpses and predatory big cats breaking into run down motels. Like I said before this film is a meditation, it does not tell you what to think about fashion and beauty, it presents a number of poetic ideas and lets you the audience consume them and come to your own conclusion, and that kind of delivery is why I think Refn is a film maker of peerless quality in this day and age. 5/5