Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is only skin deep. True beauty lies within. These statements seem simple and straightforward, but our perception of each one can vary based on our experiences in life. A downtrodden woman with wrinkles in her face and wearing an unkempt outfit while sitting in a wheelchair facing an oceanside sunset is in my opinion a beautiful image, but to learn she is a renowned, concert pianist would alter our perception of that image even further. How much we learn as we grow older and meet new people determines what we ourselves become. Whether that knowledge and insight produces a wiser individual is simply a matter of choice because at some point we willfully ignore certain defects in our perfect lives that are inconvenient for us to handle. We don’t have to accept our reality, but we do have to acknowledge it and adapt to those circumstances. We should also develop a new path to happiness and self-fulfillment along the way. I feel I may have described a more coherent explanation of the cinematic metaphor this film was trying to convey.
In The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a 16-year-old, aspiring model in Los Angeles and is attempting to break through in the industry. She is fortunate enough to come across a makeup artist named Ruby (Jena Malone), who provides emotional support with each new opportunity that falls in her lap. Modeling favors the young and every aging participant has daggers of hatred aimed at Jesse. Her innocence is reflected on her face and that attracts cameras. With each fearful, yet curious glance, she becomes the inevitable muse of both a well-respected photographer and a popular fashion designer, thus securing her status in the world of lonely, attractive souls. Eventually Jesse begins to immerse herself in the dark, treacherous side of this world and finds out what it takes to stay on top.
My positives about the film are the cinematography, the set design, and the music, which is something akin to a Vangelis soundtrack or an 80’s science fiction film set in the future. The selection of neon colors and camera angles really pulls you into the scene and augments the surreal atmosphere. The sounds are what really sends your senses across the cosmos into another dimension. It’s mostly synth-based melodies and repetitive percussion movements, but it somehow transforms the overall experience. Granted all those elements may amount to nothing if you aren’t interested in the story. I also found Ruby’s interactions with Jesse to be some of the most interesting character moments. Jena Malone recites her lines with an almost hypnotic pronunciation. You’re never sure what her intentions are and that makes her scenes stand out.
This film does not read as a palatable narrative in the traditional sense. It chooses to guide its audience with music and atmosphere rather than dialogue, but it never quite provides a compelling story for us to follow. You see Jesse’s journey through the movie and how she transitions from a timid and talented ingenue to a self-centered diva, but it doesn’t develop into anything more with regard to story. Also the modeling scenes are pretty much music videos of light and texture. The film uses one particular fashion show as a metaphor for a character’s emotions and how they are altered by the wave of attention. It goes on probably longer than it should have and that’s indicative of the entire movie. It’s not edited with any real discipline and that destroys any tension that it’s trying to build up. Where it might lose the audience, if they manage to stick around this far, is in the last 30 minutes. It starts to take the characters into such a fit of hysterical desperation and self-indulgence that you can’t help but laugh unintentionally at the situation. It’s an absurd conclusion you may find worth it if you can appreciate the rest of the film in some aspect.
The Neon Demon is an acquired taste in cinema and a less agreeable version of Black Swan, but set in the modeling and fashion industry. I still enjoyed the music and atmosphere that was created, but the uneven plot and direction of the main character made it difficult to hold your interest. Elle Fanning does a brilliant job in her role and so does Jena Malone. I may have preferred more of Malone’s character in the movie. Keanu Reeves has a small, yet noticeable role in this film as a motel manager, but the character goes nowhere. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys watching movies that aren’t mainstream, but also a little south of normal. I’d save your money for a home viewing on this one though.
THE NEON DEMON:[usr 2.75]
About The Neon Demon
Synopsis: When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.
Directors: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Stars: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves, Bella Heathcote
Runtime: 1 Hour, 57 Minutes