MY NON-PC synopsis of this very highly rated movie is that it’s a weird – bizarre even – story of our obsession over appearances, over the ideal of perfection and the predatory lusts they engender. My non-PC synopsis is that it’s overhyped rubbish
The highly stylized movie (every scene precisely and numbingly art directed) follows the life of Jesse (Elle Fanning, last seen in Trumbo) newly arrived in LA in search of a job as a model/ (We meet her initially as a corpse, blood gushing from her throat…all in the duty of art or photography). She’s an innocent fresh-faced, sixteen year old (“Tell them you’re nineteen” she’s told) whose flawless beauty, like her body has been untouched… by either zealous lover or perfection sculpting surgeon. She’s pretty immediately the talk of the town and the hit among the powers that be, much to the jealousy and consternation of the reigning beauty queens.
For them the pursuit of the ideal will stop at nothing…even to the point of cannibalism (in LA, innocence is always devoured by experience) or, for that matter, Sapphic necrophilia (don’t ask).
But Jesse is no innocent pushover. One night she opens her motel room to find a snarling mountain lion within. This (there are more symbols in the movie than a Robert Langdon symbology hunt) is her inner life: the inner beast ever guarding her precious virginity…itself a proxy for the uncorrupted soul
Unlike the uber corrupted soul: Hank (Keanu Reeves), the motel manager. He’s a crude predatory rapist, ever preying upon the innocents who drift into his web. His mirror image is Jack (Desmond Harrington), a trendy, feted photographer, whose predatory rape is of a more sophisticated nature. Both assume these young girls – mere bodies really – are there for their own forms of physical/artistic delectation.
The movie’s shot using only available light. So it’s either (when lit by day or moonlight) slightly obscure or (when lit by neon) garishly artificial: obscure or artificial – the binary world the movie suggests we live in.
In the end, after a grisly murder, guilt will out; which results in one of the models (who just can’t stomach it any more) vomiting up the eye of someone she ate. I guess, what you see is what you ate. Or something.
As the symbol of ideal beauty, Ellie Fanning is well chosen. She’s a stunningly beautiful, if lifeless beauty, in a role that demands little of her than to look innocent when she’s not looking scared.
Director/writer Nicholas Winding Ref (Drive) is to be applauded. He clearly speaks a good game…having managed to secure funding for this nonsense, and, all praise to him, plaudits by critics who, really, should know better
The Neon Demon. Dir: Nicholas Winding Refn. With: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves. Cinematographer: Natasha Braier (The Rover). Composer: Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives). Production Design: Elliott Hostetter (Night Moves)