The Neon Demon

3.5 out of 5 stars

On a day in last december, I was  watching and reviewing «High Rise» because the iTunes trailer of «The Neon Demon» was just too dull to have chosen it as the movie of the evening. As it turned out, that choice was a biiig mistake. Today I will try to correct that error:

As you may or probably may not know, I’m an avid admirer of Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece that is «Drive» (even when I still neither know how to write nor pronounce his name correctly.)

If anything Refn’s movies are highly volatile: Lucky for me I got to see «Drive» and «Bronson» (another movie I love) before their predecessor «Valhalla Rising» gave me a good nap after boring me to tears while watching it on Netflix.

So let’s see what «The Neon Demon» has to offer:

It surely has the pacing of its siblings, the music style (again by Cliff Martinez who did it in «Drive») and a similar look and feel as «Drive». So we surely have two big pluses right here. So…?

Yes, definitively, yeah, I surely loved the movie. That much I can say. The cinematography (by Natasha Braier) and over all tone are awesome. And it sure makes an intriguing and gripping experience – on multiple levels. And it must be a think piece, ’cause I sure as hell didn’t get it in its entireness.

The movie starts out well behaved as a very pretty looking, interesting performed study about superficiality, the obsession with good looks, popularity, self esteem and surely some other big words relevant in social studies I don’t feel like looking up right now.

The fascinating thing about «The Neon Demon» is that not unlike in «Drive», its protagonist seems to be the most passive, least interesting thing about it. She mostly doesn’t act, she reacts, if anything, to her surroundings or nature given conditions. And this time, the protagonist’s role as a mirror to reflect the behaviour of the rest of the ensemble, and in the end, the audience, is even clearer and more effective.

And I was more than fine with all that.

Then the whole thing goes sideways (not in quality but in a making-sense-way). Let’s say the willingness to suspend one’s disbelief is just the start.

But interestingly enough, I was fine with that too. By the time the film really got strange, I was on board thanks to the slow pacing and almost ethereal storytelling, cinematography, soundtrack and performances. I felt like in a dream – a fever dream, very much so – but in a good way – whathever that means.

The movie really got me by surprise and entertained me, despite the lack of action and plausible character arc.

I think this movie will be getting more attention as it gets older. I know I will watch it again just to figure out what I might have missed and what the hell was going on. Let’s just say this film reminded me why I fell in love with movies in the first place.

And… SPOILERS AHEAD

Then, it got me: Of course! Vampires! and suddenly knew why Keanu Reeves is in this and why it reminded me of «From Dusk till Dawn».

But then again: with all the mirror shots and scenes in very bright sunlight, the movie goes a long way to make a point that the models carrying the story can’t be classical vampires. So I in the end, I still don’t know at all what to make of it, but still I surely enjoyed the movie a lot.

So I guess this review didn’t make much sense in any way, shape or form. But you know what? Neither did «The Neon Demon» at first sight, an I still liked the hell out of it. So there’s that.

Drive

5 out of 5 stars

Here’s some thought about one of my favourite movies of the last few years: «Drive» (which I am enjoying as I write).
I’ve always loved the movie, maybe even more every time I rewatch it. But I never really thought about the reasons why.

The things I registered up to now where that the overall mood of the film is somehow bright and dark at the same time, but in any case, very intriguing; The world of LA that is built seems sureal but inviting; the captivating pseudo-eighties soundtrack is great; and the colorful characters are interestingly written and even better executed by Cranston, Mulligan, Brooks, Hendricks, Perlman and Isaac (which I didn’t even remember was in that one).

But wait,… all the characters? …Of course not. 

The main character,  the nameless driver played by Ryan Gosling remains stoic, unapproachable even, unmoved by the occurances around him, may it be a heist, a car-stunt or some good ol’ boot heel kicking the shit out of a man’s skull.

Of course the internet has some opinions about this characterization: Some stated that he might be an autist or some kind of psychopath, (which he probably, surely is).

But though that might be an suitable character-trait (or better: the absence of such), I think the creators of «Drive» may had a different goal in mind:

While the protagonist’s behaviour could (and would) be interpreted as just awesome, unshakeable coolness, which is surely a trait that a male thirty-something viewer gladly can and will identify with, there might’ve been a difference plan at play.

Maybe it’s not so much a coolness but the mentioned absence of character that makes this movie so darn good. Instead of developing a «real» person the audience hopefully can identify with, the creators might intended to try out a different route: The video game approach.

Making the playable character in games often mute, sometimes faceless or having a customizable appeareance to mirror the player’s personality (or their wishes and fantasies) helps the player to project himself onto (into?) the main character.

This interpretation of «Drive» is probably old news, but it just got to me now:

«Drive»’s main character might have been left blank intentionally, for the viewer to fill in and by doing so, getting a more immersive viewing experience. (And Ryan Gosling’s looks surely help to make this projection even more inviting.)

So there you go. Probably not my best article, surely not written in my best english, and lacking some kind of arc. But «Drive» is still a hell of a great movie, nonetheless. If you haven’t watched it yet. Whattaruwaitingfoor?!!!

Post scriptum:

Watching the third act, I just realized that this movie is even more cleverer (yes, I just wrote that) than I thought (and I probably missed the whole point of it up until now):

In the final act, the whole no-character theme is taken to the next level when the driver puts on an almost life-like latex mask to hide his personality (even more) while doing some nasty deeds. Adding the given elevating soundtrack in this scene to the mix, it seems like the Driver all but reaches a state of complete absence of identity and personality, finally achieving some sort of climax of his evolution, becoming some kind of Über-mensch (no Nazi-relations intended, but some transportation business ones are).

The soundtrack underlying the last scene («real human being») seems to support the theory that the movie tries to make a point that the protagonist only finds his own humanity after he’s shed all his earthly individual traits and characteristics.