idleness of the aesthetic attitude

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THE NEON DEMON // FILM REVIEW

There is a certain attitude that is maintained when approaching beauty. The attitude is nothing more but to observe a subject simply to appreciate it. It is a useless condition of observation as the sole purpose of this attitude is to seek pleasure in aesthetics. Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn upholds this philosophy in The Neon Demon, and exemplifies a great flaw in society through the haunting line, "beauty isn't everything, it's the only thing". The line opens our eyes to what is ugly about the world we live in, and manages to reveal how society's depraved obsession with maintaining beauty plays a role in fuelling a sociopathic sense of disarray seen within The Neon Demon.

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The heroine of the movie is sixteen year old model Jessie (Elle Fanning) who in just a week of moving to Los Angeles finds success in haste and abundance. With lack of parental figures in her life, Jessie struggles to make the right decisions in trusting the shady characters of the modelling industry and LA. She places her trust in makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who guides her through the insider business of fashion, and aspiring photographer Dean (Karl Glusman) who is no coward in displaying his romantic adoration for the young model.

The movie focuses on a common case of innocence lost. Jessie enters the screen alluring us with an energy of sweet, youthful naiveté. It is not only Fanning's girlish appearance that convinces us of her character's realism, but her reactions to cynical hostility as she encounters the cold, bitchy, aloofness of prominent models Sara (Abbey Lee Kershaw) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). This childish frivolity is immediately captured within the first few scenes of the film when chaperone Ruby introduces the femme fatale duo to the aspiring model. There is an immediate contrast in personas. The duo don't even have to say word to reflect coldness, superiority, and vanity. Though their words show no aggression, their mannerisms and bittersweet sarcasm are enough to make skin crawl in discomfort. They foreshadow a darkness that is to come, and it is this very nature that defines The Neon Demon.

Though a visual stunner, the movie is perhaps Refn's most risqué, thematically experimental project. It becomes an absolute bloodbath. A beautiful mess of chaos and self-destruction. Refn does not shy away from fabricating scenes that outline the consequences of sexual deprivation. He shows no tone of remorse approaching the topic of murder, and all of this turmoil crashes down from the second act to the final few minutes of the film. From the start you know Jessie's doomed fate. The 'happily never after' is predictable, yet when it comes it's still too much of a surprise. It can be argued that what makes the movie appreciable is Refn's ability to portray filth in a Romantic style. The film is pure visual storytelling. Though Refn does visual storytelling at its finest, the problems lies within his tendency to rely on aesthetic perfection. It is the old-fashioned case of style over substance.

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The film feels unpolished. Certain characters are introduced with a sense of purpose, but are dropped and immediately forgotten. Keanu Reeves plays a ruthless motel owner. At his character's peak in action, he suddenly disappears from the screen and is never mentioned. Though an entertaining, and darkly amusing performance - until his last appearance - you are left to conclude that his character might as well have been cut off from the script entirely. Though he plays a small part in moving the story forward his cameo is written that it drags you back like a roadblock, and you feel stuck in the middle of a traffic jam wanting to move forward. At these moments the visual aspects don't make up for the inconsistencies; however it does not become a reason to dismiss the movie entirely.

Though lacking absolute perfection, The Neon Demon remains memorable. It is a film crafted not limited to appease the senses through visually pleasing material, but to make moviegoers question the state of society. The Neon Demon at first appears to be a social commentary on the big bad world of Hollywood and the modelling industry, but this where audiences first get it wrong. It is not a social commentary on a particular sector of society, but is a judgement against society as a whole. Refn is a director whose craft should be observed from a collectivist lens. It is another red-pill adventure that unveils the flaws of feminine nature, and the extent to which society values a motion as useless as the aesthetic attitude. Refn is right to state that "beauty isn't everything, it's the only thing" and that's what makes society ugly.

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BY VICTORIA SANDICO

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