With all the commotion surrounding The Neon Demon (my most anticipated film of the year), being jeered, cheered, people walking out and people applauding like crazy, lets take a step back and look at the last film NWR released at Cannes, a film that was also accompanied by an uproarious reception. Drive was an exemplary masterpiece with a timeless essence, the film that finally established NWR as the genius director that he is, which meant everyone would have his eyes pointed towards him for his next project which then involuntarily became about that added pressure, a film about a troubled figure confronting God is NWR’s response to the pressure on his back, a film in which he wanted to display what it meant to battle with God about your problems and the absurdity of life, unfortunately it was a failure. Which when placed against the triumph of Drive, helps highlight the many flaws it has, reducing it to a depraved work of art about silent individuals walking the neon-lit streets of Bangkok.
When I think of Only God Forgives I see it as a doomed neon-noir only NWR could steer towards misery. Its a story about defenselessness, sadness, inconformity, and belittling posing as a revenge thriller which it isn’t at all. Chronicling the life an individual tied to the Devil disguised as his mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) and being manipulated to confront God disguised as a cop (Vithaya Pansringarm), Only God Forgives is deeply messed up from the get-go where our main character’s brother rapes and murders a sixteen year-old to the end where I’ll say our protagonist cuts ties with the Devil (my interpretation). At its core, Only God Forgives has a fascinating premise, man raised by the Devil told to fight God, mostly everything is lost in the execution, and while I won’t say this is a bad movie I will state it lives in the same limbo Batman v. Superman resides in, weirdly enough that being another movie about God vs. man. Whereas in B v. S its all very direct, Only God Forgives is much more sophisticated in the way it deals with its themes, planting metaphors, subtle lines of dialogue, a tremendous score by Cliff Martinez, and gorgeous visuals from Larry Smith to tell its story.
Told mainly from Julian’s (Gosling) troubled perspective, we’re presented with Only God Forgives first problem, Julian does speak but chooses to remain in silence for the majority of the film, so we’ve then got a non-speaking title character that doesn’t do anything of importance except for two scenes in the movie. I know One Eye and The Driver were also like that but in Only God Forgives this just doesn’t work. We get he’s tormented, but we get that from his interactions with his surroundings, especially his lover and his mother who at one point might have been the same person which I think is enough summation to understand Julian’s not a sound mind, but then you mute him almost entirely, that did bother me a lot because if he and God who are our main characters have an amount of lines that barely passes twenty when added up we’ve got a problem since most of the movie will now bee stares and silence. The amazing Cliff Martinez can cover it up for a while but those prolonged silences just keep on going and reach this point of complete annoyance that detracted from my viewing experience. Luckily we have a character who does speak, unfortunately its the Devil in the form of Julian’s mother who only spits out offensive insults and anything else she says relates to the hardships of nurturing Julian under the possible influence of incest and murder. Which means all of our main characters are completely unrelatable. This is my main issue with Only God Forgives apart from the fact that it feels like a two-hour film even though its only ninety minutes long. Sure, the visuals and the music transcend the film itself, its concepts reach towards a greater sense of being but since we can’t identify or like any of the characters put in-front of us the film collapses upon itself because we as the audience are left not caring about the film that slowly meanders through dream-sequences that only become relevant towards the end over what seems like an eternal viewing experience. The only reason I will not call this a bad movie is because there is nothing out there like it, it score is beautiful, the performances deliver for the most part, the cinematography is of a lush, dangerous feel, and there are aspects of the story I like yet never came to completion, leaving me to rate Only God Forgives at a 45 out of 100.