Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” haunts

Brooke Lewis, Reporter

*Spoilers ahead*
“The Neon Demon” was a hauntingly hypnotic psychological horror film that portrays the significance of beauty, or more specifically how our society responds to it, in today’s generation.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn uses a uniquely styled yet polarizing cinematography to tell the story of a young and innocent girl named Jesse (Elle Fanning) that moves to Los Angeles in attempt to launch her modeling career. She faces numerous obstacles, including jealous rivals, creepy photographers and an insolent motel manager. The film takes a sharp turn of events when Jesse begins to allow her success in the fashion industry get to her head, leading to her inevitable downfall in getting devoured by the beauty-obsessed rivals in the end.
The opening scene is arguably the most important scene in the entire film being that it foreshadows the gruesome ending, giving the audience a slight glimpse at what is to come. The blood covered model laying lifeless on the sofa provides an intriguing hook to keep the audience consistently begging the question of what is real and what is just for the cameras.
Jesse quite obviously represents natural beauty, innocence, and perfection (or at least the rest of the character’s definition of perfection). Each of the other three females represent a different aspect of beauty. Sarah (Abbey Lee) represents external beauty with the longing of never being beautiful enough. Gigi (Bella Heathcoate) represents artificial beauty as the amount of surgeries she has undergone is mentioned many times throughout the movie in order to maintain her splendor. Ruby (Jena Malone) is the lesbian makeup artist that is used to reveal the sexual aspect of beauty and what happens to women in the modeling industry when they don’t give in.
There are purposefully no male leads in this film in order to set the focus entirely on the women. Still, males are part of the plot. The boyfriend Dean (Karl Glusman) is used to represent normalcy in close comparison to all the chaos that ensues while the motel manager, Hank (Keanu Reeves), represents a stereotypical sexual predator.
Much like the title of the film suggests, the events in the plot (that include a mountain lion as well as necrophilia and cannibalism scenes) perfectly go along with it. The first half is bright and tantalizing, representing Jesse’s youthfulness and innocent dreams of making it big in the fashion industry. This is also the facade of how life in the fashion industry appears to the rest of the world. The film takes a sharp turn of events after Jesse becomes more self-aware of her beauty and falls in love with her appearance, which now makes her dangerous. The second half portrays the dark ritualistic reality of what this life style really consists of. The film also reveals what it’s like to be born a beautiful woman and its cost.
After watching this film for the first time, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. I was left with this churning and unsettled feeling in my stomach as if I had just watched something that no one was supposed to see. I believe that this sensation is exactly what Refn was intending to leave the audience with. I don’t think anyone is supposed to like this film. They were supposed to feel sick to their stomachs because of the way that some women treat each other in today’s generation.
This film did so much more than merely show the audience what they are supposed to take away from it on the screen; it toyed with the audience’s emotions in order to leave them with a feeling they can take away with them instead. This method of cinematography is far more effective in getting the point across, and it leaves more of a lasting effect on both men and women’s minds on a much deeper and emotional level. It was geared toward women to realize how foolish it is to tear other women down out of sheer jealousy and allowed for men to see the reality of how women in this generation are treated, especially in Hollywood.
I loved the artistic dexterity behind this film and felt that it was entirely underrated in terms of reaching a vast audience. My only criticism would be that some of the areas in the plot didn’t quite make sense logically in the progression of the story. For example, it was never explained what reason Jesse had to dress up and put glitter makeup on during the ending. But because of the complexity of the movie, it’s easy to ignore small plot holes assuming it had to have held some kind of deeper meaning.
Still, the question remaining in the audience’s mind will be: what was intentional and what was just for the cameras?
One can rent this movie on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu or iTunes.