Much loved Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn tells the story of a young girl named Jesse (Elle Fanning) who moves to Los Angeles hoping to break into the modelling industry. As she delves further into the world she craves to be a part of, it is made clear to her that she has a bright future in the industry, however this causes tension between Jesse and her modelling counterparts.
The film has been met with mixed responses, with some calling for it to be banned due to the difficult themes it deals with such as cannibalism and necrophilia, however it has also been met with rave reviews so who’s right? In my humble opinion it ticks many, if not all the boxes. The main factor that struck me whilst watching it was the striking visuals that Refn and cinematographer Natasha Braier create, it has beautiful surrealist vision to it but that’s not the point, the film challenges us to look beneath the surface which according to the film the modelling industry fails to do. Some may see this as purely a critique of the modelling industry and nothing else and whilst it is a critique to a certain extent, it is also a study of humanity.
In the film Jesse’s counterparts are portrayed as robot like figures, showing no sign of humanity. However we also see lack of humanity in Jesse’s landlord (played by Keanu Reeves), in fact the only person that shows the slightest bit of emotion is the character of Dean, so we see how easy it is for people to abandon all compassion for others and to act in an unemotional manner. Many of the questions that arise from the film centre around the nature of beauty, can you obtain true beauty? Just what will people do to achieve this level of beauty? We are told many times that Jesse is uniquely beautiful and not only that but she has natural beauty, the other models have had plastic surgery to gain their looks but this is not the case for Jesse. We are told Jesse’s mother described her as dangerous, we soon realise this is the case, not through any fault of her own but because her beauty is so desirable and yet unattainable, this is ultimately what causes the tension between her and the other girls. I also must mention the performance which Elle Fanning gives which is that of a seasoned performer.
The neon Demon is now available on dvd and I urge you to give it a watch and make up your own mind. In my opinion it doesn’t quite hit the heights of Refn’s previous film ‘only god forgives’ which was simply a masterpiece but it stands alone and stands tall.