Sunday, June 26, 2016
The Neon Demon Is A Glowing Example Of Thoughtful Absurdity
When my screening started, five people were in the auditorium. By the end, it was me and one other guy left standing. Everyone else had walked out, even before the real crazy violent stuff entered the picture. It may not have been their cup of tea, but honestly, the bold distinctiveness worked like gangbusters for me. Perhaps even crazier than any of the oddness found in The Neon Demon is that its gusto bizarreness not only doesn't distract from the weighty themes present in the movie (and there is plenty to dive into in terms of underlying ideas and concepts here), it manages to work as a lovely compliment to them.
The Neon Demon focuses entirely on sixteen-year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning), who yearns to make it into the world of modeling in Los Angeles. Before she even knows it, Jesse finds herself the talk of the industry and the envy of other women who also want to hit the big time in the model industry. This is the movie's central conceit, examining the psychological impacts the beauty standards of society that are present in both modeling industry and American society in general have on women. There's a rigid standard to be found in this world of modeling when it comes to what type of woman is found most ideal for the occupation and its by simply the luck of the draw that Jesse fits those requirements. Catering to the male gaze without a consideration for the numerous virtues found in individuality is a terrifying concept that The Neon Demon recognizes is one that very much exists in the real world. There's an inescapable element of tragedy in watching Jesse gradually change in order to survive in this competitive and emotionally tumultuous world that sets rigid standards that mentally scar women and alter their entire viewpoint to a dangerous degree. Both this idea and the modification of Jesse when she gets higher up in the industry are handled most gracefully by the script, which is penned by Refn as well as Mary Laws and Polly Stenham.
Examining the cognitive effects societies standards for beauty have on women is heavy matter for any film to handle so it may sound impossible to balance that with the aforementioned exceedingly more crazy material. But the way The Neon Demon gradually gets one accustomed to more heightened elements that play a crucial role in the second half of this movie may be one of its best scripting maneuvers. Early on in the film, photoshoots and a catwalk are depicted in a stylized manner that helps get one adjusted to the concept of this film diving into more over-the-top material. Now, in real life both of those things tend to utilize flashy colors and distinctive visuals in order to attract ones attention anyway. So to have The Neon Demon's depiction of these elements go whole-hog with psychedelic-esque colors and unorthodox imagery feels like a natural extension of the visual craziness that already exists in the world of modeling. Really, the stunning imagery concocted in the runway sequence and photoshoot montages don't feel too far off from the real thing and their own oddball visual tendencies, though Lord knows Nicholas Winding Refn and cinematographer Natasha Braier bring their own visual flair to the proceedings.
Speaking of visual, holy goodness is this a gorgeous movie to watch. Lucious colors fill the big screen in the opening credits as a fantastic foreshadowing of all of the visual goodness that is to come in the more visually heightened segments of the story. Honest to God, this is one movie I truly wish was offered in IMAX because I'd imagine the beautiful cinematography would just pop all the more in that format. It's seriously stunning stuff and thankfully the careful consideration towards the appearance of the film doesn't vanish in the more low-key sequences that comprise the majority of The Neon Demon which more than stand out on their own merits thanks to elements like strong lighting and plenty of thoughtful shot compositions.
As you can gather from the fact that the majority of the people in my screening of The Neon Demon walked out before the film even reached the half-way point, this is not gonna be a film for all people. And I have my own set of qualms with the film for sure. For instance, the lack of a conclusion for one of the members of the trio of antagonistic models bugged me and one or two of the abstract sequences in the second half of the film don't seem to add much from a thematic standpoint. Those are certainly two foibles that crop up in my head. But those flaws directly flow from the movies audacious spirit that really can't be denied. The Neon Demon swings for the fences in terms of both confronting very real issues facing women in society and putting some truly outlandish content on-screen. Both facets of The Neon Demon may seem at odds conceptually with each other, but they flow together in impressively synchronized harmony. And that successful balancing act, not to mention the gorgeous visual scheme of the production, is a key component of why this one kept me glued to the screen.