Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Only God Forgives - Film Review


Director Nicolas Winding Refn's  2013 film "Only God Forgives" is one to be watched with patience and an open mind. From the very opening sequence of this film it becomes apparent that Refn is ultimately more interested in the overall aesthetics of the production rather than the plot. As bold lighting choices and heavy shadows slowly grace the scene, the viewer soon gives up on the idea of trying to scrape an easy narrative from the conversations and actions of the characters, and rather simply learns to enjoy the superb cinematography scattered throughout the piece. Although the plot is minimal, there still remains a vague storyline, as the viewer follows Ryan Goslings character, Julian, try and avenge his brothers death, under the orders of his (slightly too intimate) mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). The audience quickly becomes accustomed to the heavy violence and language unsparingly littered throughout, as the character of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) plays the role of God, or rather mediator amongst the streets of Thailand, patrolling the storyline raining justice on the crimes carried out by the offenders.

Fig 1: Only God Forgives, Poster

From the very opening of the film, almost instantly in fact, the viewer is subjected to bold and harsh splashes of light on each shot, giving each ominous character a platform to perform on, Almost like a theatre production. This sense of performance is held throughout each scene perfectly, as it seems the stylistic lighting almost boosts the plot, giving the scenes an aura of stage presence that helps entice the viewer. It seems as if these lights have left a mark on many viewers with Arikan stating they think that " the cinematographer Larry Smith has lit up like the inside of a Dutch whorehouse" (Arikan, 2013), something the moody reds of the film can hardly disagree with. As mentioned before, the plot feels minimal and delayed, something that allows the lights to really take centre stage throughout the film and in turn allows the audience to really focus on the streaks of reds and blues parading across the uniformly patterned interiors.

In regards to this before mentioned sense of stage presence, the aesthetics of the interior shots really help this idea shine through, as bold patterns and designs reminiscent of the famous Overlook Hotel carpet from 'The Shining' give the set an almost stage like persona. These aesthetics lead to an ever present theory throughout the film, that being the idea that the events taking place throughout seem to occur within a metaphorical fortress of the mind, Bradshaw suggests that the film is "taking place in a universe of fear" (Bradshaw, 2013). Almost as if the events are the darkest thoughts of an all powerful being and the character of Chang is there to mediate these ideas and play the role of the judge, almost like a gardener patrolling his land with sheers, ridding the area of any overgrowing weeds.
Fig 2: Only God Forgives, Screenshot
 
Although the aesthetics of Only God forgives certainly take presidency over anything else in the film, the plot still manages to carry some important messages and ideas throughout. Early on in the film we meet Julian's mother, Crystal, a woman who doesn't quite hold a nuclear maturnal relationship with her sons, but rather plays the role of the 'Devil on the shoulder' figure for Goslings character. This character along with the Chang seem to play the only archetypal roles throughout, almost adding a heaven and hell type plot to the story. The mother does feel in complete contrast with Chang, as one seems fixed on avenging her dead son by any means necessary whilst the other sees to the task of dealing criminals the punishment they deserve, leaving the character of Julian firmly placed in the middle of this conflict, possibly suggesting to the viewer the idea that the choices one makes throughout life will always be subject to influence and in the end always return to the hands of judgement. This idea almost lends itself to allowing one to think that Refn did ensure his creation had a heavy subject to fall back on once the viewer became desensitised to the powerful glows of light throughout the film, all contributing to ensuring Only God Forgives remains something to talk about.
Fig 3: Only God Forgives, Screenshot
 

The 2013 film Only God forgives simply cannot fail to leave a viewer with a lasting impression, weather it be the theory filled plot line or the bold lights piercing each shot, this film ensures it's remembered. With fellow reviewers stating that the piece is "An extremely misunderstood film" (Stuckmann, 2015), It certainly feels as if this film will go on to be the subject of many a cinema lovers conversation for years to come, and if only one thing is definite, the character of Chang certainly doesn't forgive.

Bibliography

Arikan, Ali, 2013, Only God Forgives, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/only-god-forgives-2013, Accessed on: 8/12/15

Bradshaw, Peter, 2013, Only God Forgives - Review, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/01/only-god-forgives-review Accessed on: 8/12/15

Stuckmann, Chris. 2015, Only God Forgives - Movie Analysis, http://www.chrisstuckmann.com/only-god-forgives-movie-analysis/ Accessed on: 8/12/15

Illustration List

Fig 1: Poster, Only God Forgives, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1602613/ Accessed on 8/12/15

Fig 2: Screenshot, Only God Forgives, http://tawfikzone.com/tag/only-god-forgives-2013/ Accessed on 8/12/15

Fig 3: Screenshot, Only God Forgives, https://moviesandamic.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/only-god-forgives/ Accessed on 8/12/15




 

1 comment:

  1. Well-considered review Lewis :)
    Just make sure that you proofread before posting, as there are a few typos - 'shinning' and 'ora' for example. Also make sure that you are consistently italicising the film name, and that you have capitals for each word of the title - 'Forgives' has slipped through the net.

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