Violence as Style in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon


Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon immerses each moment in excessiveness throughout its running time; retaining a semblance of plot that situates the viewer within Jesse’s (Elle Fanning) perspective, we’re invited to experience her rise and eventual downfall.

Excessiveness, mediated through the narrative and style, shifts focus from the narrative towards the spectacle, as informed through the bold, primary based colour scheme that transforms each image into an alluring nightmarish composition. The deep reds, blues, and purples envelope each frame that starkly contrasts with scenes that are blown out in white. The opening scene introduces each element working alongside another, initializing the sequence of events that will unfold; Elle is lying back on a couch, with her neck lacerated and blood spilling forth, while the frame pulls back, revealing that it is a staged photo shoot. This moment of staged brutality elicits shock after the opening credits, however, the remaining sequences withholds such visceral violence on screen.

I don’t want to be like them. They want to be like me.

Violence in Neon Demon appears in varying forms (physical/verbal/psychological) as Jesse comes to terms the nature of individuals involved within her immediate circle of the modeling industry. Each character revolving around Jesse’s environment manipulates, and projects their own vision onto her, culminating to her final breath; while Jesse is self-aware in her own regarding the position of a young ingénue within their circle, she navigates on her own accord while holding the attention of photographers, a make-up artist, and Fashion Designer’s, each individual that are directly involved in creating and capturing forms of beauty in different mediums. Jesse’s demise is reflective of the nature of beauty: ephemeral and transient within the natural world, while being sustained within the artificial sphere of artistic creativity.

Excessive violence is largely absent throughout the film, rather, withholds it until the climax, keeping it intimate between characters and inflicting cruelty upon themselves. Consuming one another while climbing the social ladder.

Written by Angel Perez

Media Enthusiast