Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives (2013)

Figure 1. Only God Forgives poster 

Only God Forgives is a film in which Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his extremely domineering mother Crystal seek revenge for his brothers’ death. Extremely violent and grotesque Only God Forgives shows a cycle of revenge in the grimmest way possible.  

Figure 2. Julian looks at his hands

Julien is shown to be struggling with his masculinity within the film. As Sexton mentions in his review “Only God Forgives subverts all our expectations, making him the opposite of what audiences want him to be as an action hero (not only does he not get his shirt off, by the way, he dons a formal three-piece suit halfway through the film and then gets so battered he looks grotesque).” (Sexton, 2013). What Sexton is saying is true, the portrayal of Julian by Gosling is very different to his previous characters who are often very manly. This makes a very interesting casting choice. Julian is perceived as weak and not masculine enough for his mother, his mother stating that he was jealous of his older brother. She tells him how his brother was more of a man and often questions his choices this obviously undermines his masculinity.

Figure 3. Open Hands & Figure 4. Clenched Hands 

Hands are also very present in this film. Harkness speaks about hands saying that “Idle hands are the devil’s tools, the film seems to be saying, and in this neon-lit circle of hell such direct and uncompromising action is a symbol of the moral absolutism required to counter the craziness.” (Harkness, 2013). The hands in the film are often a symbol of morality and early in the film someone has their hand chopped off in relation to their morality. Julian also keeps looking at his hands during the film as shown in figure 2. As he looks at them he often clenches them like in figure 4. During the film his seems unable to touch women and this clenching of his hands into fists shows this repression.
Figure 5. Lighting on Crystal

What really stands out in this film is the lighting and the colours of the set. Sélavy mentions this in his article “With its rich colours and intricate patterns, its sensual, oppressive light and oblique storytelling, and at its centre, a laconic, supernaturally powerful, sword-wielding protagonist, Only God Forgives feels like a very Asian movie” (Sélavy, s.d). The colours of the film are indeed oriental, using reds and yellows which are often associated with Asia but these colours also connote meanings of danger and warning. Red is used very often and could also connote blood in this very violent film. As seen in figure 5 the lighting can also be very dark but the colour shines through in some areas.

Only God Forgives is a hard film to follow with its show rather than tell nature, it is however visually exciting and this nature provokes the thought of the audience.


Illustration List
Refn, N (2013) Figure 1. Only God Forgives poster http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/ce/Only_God_Forgives_poster.jpg (Accessed on 9/12/14)
Refn, N (2013) Figure 2. Julian looks at his hands http://www.highlycontrasting.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/only-god-forgives07.jpg  (Accessed on 9/12/14)

Refn, N (2013) Figure 5. Lighting on Crystal http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-emeNEd46zuc/Uqdmk3TfMzI/AAAAAAAAkcg/KXeVIUBirM0/s1600/9UBUq6u.png (Accessed on 9/12/14)

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