Neon Demon

 

                First, I would not recommend this movie to anyone.  Repeat:  I would not recommend this movie to anyone.  There.  You’ve been warned.  The images are just too disturbing, and the content is just too bizarre. 

                The premise is plausible enough.  A teenage girl arrives in L.A. with dreams of stardom.  That happens every day.  But this girl, Jesse, really is something special.  She has “that look”---enough to make men’s eyes glaze over and jaws go slack, and enough to make women insanely jealous.  And yet she’s also somehow innocent and guileless and un-self-conscious.  At least for now.  Jesse is too young and naïve to understand the depth of the emotion directed toward her.  Her first instinct is to trust the first person who’s nice to her, Ruby (Jena Malone), who is actually a make-up artist.  Ruby gets her an appointment with a “real” fashion photographer, who instantly takes a shine to her, but of course his interest in her is prurient, also.  Here’s the first step down the slippery slope of stardom.

                It’s easy to believe that Elle Fanning, as Jesse, is every person’s fantasy.  She turned 18 after the filming.  She has long blond, thick hair, big, sensuous lips, a turned-up nose, great cheekbones, and expressive eyes.  As Jesse, she doesn’t realize how beautiful she is----yet.  But the more people keep fawning over her, and trying to use her, and yes, abuse her, as well----she begins to get it.  It’s not that she wants to be like them, it’s that they want to be like her.  So much so that everyone wants a piece of her.  Sometimes even literally.

                Director Nicolas Winding Refn is already known for his edgy filmmaking, but this one definitely pushes the envelope of acceptable viewing.  Sometimes, there are beautiful tableaus filled with gorgeous models.  Other times, there are snarling beasts, either live or mounted on the wall.  People are incredibly cruel, selfish, and crass, but they’ll smile at you and pretend they like you, so look out for the backstabbers.  Literally and figuratively.  Fortunately, Mr. Refn has enough sense not to exploit nudity for the underage Ms. Fanning (though she does appear languorously in a sensuous fantasy sequence).  But the female nudity elsewhere is as casual as the violence---would you believe watering the petunias while topless?  How about brandishing scissors?  Partner showers to wash off all that annoying blood?

                Well, if Mr. Refn was attempting to show us an allegory about celebrity, and how we worship beauty as an idol but then devour it, then he’s made his point very clear.  Taking it one step over the line, we even idolize our dead celebrities---but demonstrating that by a startling scene of necrophilia?  That is truly horrific, even if it is an attempt to be prophetic.  It only succeeds in being pathetic.

                I understand that Ms. Fanning missed her prom in order to attend the opening of the film in Cannes.  She should have gone to her prom instead.  And you should go anywhere other than to the theater to see this monstrosity under the guise of avant-garde. 

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What movies have offended you?  Why?

2)                  Do you agree with the film’s tagline that “Beauty isn’t the most important thing.  It’s the only thing”?  Is that an accurate synopsis of our celebrity culture?

3)                  Who is the most beautiful person in the world to you?  Why?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association