So, you know that thing where you go watch a movie and don’t really know much about it beyond the fact that you like the director and the trailer was kinda trashy & cool?
That’s pretty much how we ended up seeing Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon- we loved Drive after all and the trailer had a weird Black Swan vibe to it, so off we moseyed with barely any expectations but looking forward to seeing something a little different, a little off kilter. A film without superheroes, explosions or apocalypses (is that the plural? Apocalypsecees? Apocalypticons?)
Anyways Holy Bejeesus…were we thrown for a loop. Because The Neon Demon turned out to be an absolute gaudy brain-rape of the highest order; an unconventional horror of the kind you’ve never seen before. Like,seriously. And after a gorgeous and relatively comprehensible 80 minutes of bitchy rivalry and catwalk showdowns, the film’s third act just goes absolutely balls-to-the-wall batshit crazy. To be quite honest there really are no words to describe exactly what happens in its conclusion beyond… kjdsfhsdfkjdfkjsdfkjjsdfkjhkjshdfksjhdf.
Isn’t the film pretentious, though? Well, sure. Self-indulgent? A little. Just a case of Style over substance? It did seem like it at first. But actually the more we thought about proceedings, the deeper down the garish gory rabbit-hole we fell. So in an attempt to try and ease you into your own viewing of The Neon Demon, out of the goodness of our hearts we’ve decided to offer you some questions you might want to ask for yourself if you go see this.
And those questions happen to look a little something like this (deep breath everybody):
- First of all- is the film a satire or a jet-black comedy? It’s obviously trying to comment on the excesses and darkness of the modelling industry but with its influences in colour and design appearing to stem from directors like David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) and Dario Argento (Suspiria), is Refn looking to create his own entirely new genre or simply continue their trend of surrealist horror?
- Due to its polarising nature (the film got both laughs and boos at Cannes) is it destined to be cult classic?
- Though the dialogue seems to be the weakest part of the film, is there actually more to learn from the script than you might think? For example, when Ruby asks Jesse, “Are you food or sex” while discussing lipstick names and Jesse doesn’t know how to answer, does that mean that she’s neither? Or both? Judging by what happens to her in the end, the answer might be more important than you first thought.
- Question number 4: How large a part does Colour play in the film? (Even though the director is by all accounts colour blind!!) Some eagle-eyed viewers have interpreted the palette as follows: green represents peace/serenity, pink as innocence or naivety, blue as narcissism and red as the seductive demon/danger. Is this intentional or just purely for aesthetics? (Especially given that one of the main players name is Ruby)
- Also why is Alessandro Nivola uncredited when he has more screen time than the other male characters?
And now, it’s time to get knee deep into the deeper, darker shit….
- Since Nicholas Winding Refn chose to film a large portion of the film at the Paramour Mansion (because it’s allegedly haunted), is the idea of a supernatural presence worth keeping in mind when things start getting mondo bizarro?
- Don’t believe us? Then consider some of the following….
- Dotted all around the mansion that Ruby stays in are large impressive statues of big cats. Does Ruby then have anything to do with the cougar in Jessie’s bedroom (threatening her safe space to make her turn to Ruby for help through using the supernatural motif of predatory big cats?)
- And what of all the Occult Symbolism littered throughout the film- the ‘face on the mirror’ sigil that Ruby draws to signal the start of the final act. Or the electric pink triangles that Jesse sees when she takes part in her first show. Consider maybe Jesse’s midnight drive with Dean where she describes the moon as a giant baleful eye. Or Ruby’s hidden esoteric tattoos that we only see when she is naked? Does this mean that there is a mystical element to the proceedings that we hadn’t considered before?
- At this point perhaps you might want to take a look around when Ruby is lying in the rose garden towards the end. Are those other graves around her? Has she done this before, maybe even multiple times? Is she then the instigator of everything that happens- is she in fact more than the woefully human make-up artist she seems to be?
- Do premonitions or dreams have a part to play here, as Jesse seems to foresee her fate at the motel and locks her door as a result, passing her fate onto her thirteen year old neighbour instead? And where did this presentiment come from? Could Ruby have sent it to her in order to keep her for herself?
- You might in fact want to think a little harder about the mythological side of things as a whole. What do you think the link between the moon and the menstrual cycle means for the scene with Ruby on the floor of the mansion? It certainly seems ritualistic in nature, doesn’t it?
- And in the same way that in primitive mythology warriors often became cannibalistic, eating the flesh of their enemies in a bid to absorb their powers. Is this the reason that Sarah is finally able to shine and be noticed at the end?
- You know, they always say that there’s power in a name. Bearing this in mind, taking ‘The Neon Demon’ as a title then- what exactly is this referring to?
- For example, is Ruby the demon- the supernatural mastermind of everything that happens?
- Or perhaps it’s Jessie that is the demon, bringing out the worst in everyone around her –sins such as lust, jealousy, possessiveness?
- Or moving away from the literal, is the neon “demon” simply an idea? A feeling. Lights and Glamour. The attention and adoration of those around. The craving of the spotlight. The intoxicating feeling these women are flooded with when they are admired?
- And when Gigi throws up the eyeball at the end (!), is she rejecting that feeling of finally being someone in the spotlight? Or using that ‘shock and awe’ cannibal finale is the director trying to give us his own take on the eating disorders that seem to be so prevalent in the modelling industry?
- In a nutshell; is all of the madness on screen metaphorical or is it in fact…good old-fashioned witchcraft?
- And in the final shot, where Sarah walks into the wilderness; is this implying that only the strongest and soulless survive in that world? Or is it nothing more than a great visual to close things out on?
It’s worth noting at this point that a great deal of the move was improvised as Refn himself only wrote a bare bones script to film from. This means that when he created the idea for the film, he was striving for a mood rather than actual plot.
It’s also useful to remember that Elle Fanning was sixteen at the time she filmed this and so if you’re hoping or gratuitous shots of nudity from her then you will probably be disappointed. This doesn’t affect the film’s potency FYI and trying to justify Jessie’s appeal to the audience never seems to the goal of the director. You just have to understand that to the other characters around her; she has that intangible thing that turns every head in the room. So to all the naysayers claiming that Ms Fanning isn’t pretty enough to carry the role off, we really don’t want to hear it. Take your body shaming elsewhere, pal.
Of course, with this blog post it’s possible that this is nothing more than a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes and we’re guilty of reading way too much into this thing. If nothing else though hopefully we’ve given you guys some food for thought for when you give The Neon Demon a watch. We’re not going to answer any of the questions above either- we have our own opinions on these things obviously, but as fans of personal interpretation we want to leave with the chance to make up your own mind.
As always though- please hit us up with thoughts and answers. We’re big sharers here at Off the Record and look forward to all the love/hate you’re willing to throw our way.
And as always-
Vive La Question Grande!