Feat. The Music of Ladyhawke (in a very special EFC music video!)
You know what my mother used to call me? Dangerous. “You’re a dangerous girl.” She was right.
In the world of modeling, beauty is everything. If you aren’t beautiful, no one will pay attention to you. What could be worse? Actually being beautiful.
The Neon Demon (2016) is a sensorially rich, nightmarish portrayal of the woes of aesthetics. There’s barely a plot and it unfurls at a snail’s pace. Instead this film is more like an art gallery exhibition. Each scene is a painting in a unified series. The style is bold, erotic and dark. The theme apparent is physical beauty and its pitfalls.
We wish we were beautiful, but what is it like if you actually are? What would it be like to be the protagonist, Jesse (Elle Fanning), a girl who is drop dead gorgeous and everyone around her knows it? Look at what happens to her. (Spoilers Ahead).
She is envied, hated, and targeted by her peers. Others covet her like a golden trophy, loving her only superficially and inspiring a false sense of confidence in her. But it gets even worse for this 16-year-old runaway.
“I know what I look like. Women would kill to look like this.”
Because everyone around her tells her she is beautiful, she starts to believe them. And then a curious thing happens, she begins to fall in love with herself. She becomes a narcissist. Seasoned bloggers know this road leads to a dead end.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what if the eye beholden sees only itself? It poisons and corrodes the psyche. Like a reflection caught between two adjacent or opposing mirrors it goes on and on and fucks with your mind. And that’s exactly what the film itself will do to you.
* * *
I swear, we dislike things mostly because we do not understand them. When I watched this film last weekend I didn’t like it. But I also knew I didn’t understand it. Furthermore, even before watching it I knew in my gut that it belonged in the Experience Film Collection and I had made up my mind that I was going to write about it. That decision forced me to think about this film because otherwise I’d have nothing meaningful to say about it here. Sure enough, after mulling this one over for a few days and, with the help of some Adderall, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more.
The real breakthrough happened with a change in perspective. Rather than view Jesse as a real character, I thought, what if she’s just a metaphor? What if SHE’S the neon demon, and what if the neon demon is a force inside the psyche? Maybe even our own psyche?
Or, maybe Jesse is a real person but some of the scenes (like the sequence above where she kisses her reflection) merely personify what’s happening inside her head rather than out there in the world (The catwalk is in her mind). I’m not certain but, for a film of which’s central thesis orbits around the dialectic of inner vs. outer beauty, these seem fitting if not intended modes of interpretation. Don’t you think?
What are your thoughts on this film? Is beauty a blessing or a curse? What IS the Neon Demon? Is it Jesse? Is it Beauty? Envy? Narcissism? Or is it something else? And might this be the quintessential Disgust film?
EFC 13 Music Video (Feat. “Dangerous” by Ladyhawke):
The Neon Demon
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws & Polly Stenham
Starring: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, and Keanu Reeves
Music: Cliff Martinez
The Inside Out: Disgust (44%), Fear (18%), Anger (4%), Sadness (2%), Joy (2%)