Arts & Culture
The Neon Demon: Loudly Didactic, Yet Quietly Haunting
Nicolas Winding Refn’s most well-known film, Drive, was rapturously received by critics at its Cannes premiere in 2011. Writing for The Guardian, Xan Brooks lightheartedly observed how after “witness[ing] great art and potent social commentary; the birth of the cosmos and the end of the world,” – referring to other films such as The Tree of Life and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which also competed at Cannes that year – “all we really wanted all along was a scene in which a man gets his head stomped in a lift.” Indeed, one could assume from how Refn won the festival’s award for Best Director that year that Drive’s hyper-stylized violence resonated with many. However, for a director who has made a name for himself by realizing physical brutality beneath sordid neon lights, his latest film, The Neon Demon, is so restrained in its depiction of sexuality that by the time it unleashes a torrent of sexual imagery, we can’t help but be horrified. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring model and recent arrival in Los Angeles. Living out of a motel in Pasadena, she initially roams the town in search of agency representation; her doe-eyed, adolescent features betray the beguiling innocence of someone new to town.