June 25, 2016
'The Neon Demon': Controversial Director Nicolas Winding Refn's Unique Take On Movie-Making Success [SPOILER-FREE]

Nicolas Winding Refn, director of the recently released dramatic thriller The Neon Demon, and Cliff Martinez, composer of The Neon Demon's score, recently sat down with Bloody Disgusting and had a discussion about the film in which Refn and Martinez voiced a lot of very untraditional viewpoints in regards to The Neon Demon. Topics covered included dealing with criticism, respecting younger film audiences, and how he felt the extremely subjective and non-linear nature of The Neon Demon could actually contribute to, rather than detract from, its commercial success.

First of all, you must understand that The Neon Demon is far from conventional in terms of its plot structure and story-telling methods. This may be even more true in The Neon Demon than in many of Refn's previous films like 2009's Valhalla Rising and 2013's Only God Forgives, both of which were very atypical big-budget movies.

YouTube-based film critic Chris Stuckmann elaborates in his critique of The Neon Demon.

"If you are not a fan of strange, different art films, just stay away. If you like a more straightforward narrative, stay away," he warns.

Although Stuckmann stressed that The Neon Demon film was not friendly to all audiences, though, he stated that he enjoyed how experimental it was and thought that, ultimately, it was a success because it gave audiences a lot to mull over and react to, even long after the credits finished rolling.

"The best things in life are acquired tastes," Martinez said. "Alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, uni and campari. That's the power of The Neon Demon. It doesn't deliver all the answers quickly or easily. It fires up people's imaginations and I think that's the power of [Refn's] films."

In the interview, Refn himself said that is exactly what he was going for in the movie: drawing diverse reactions from the audience members, even if that means detracting from a movie's immediate entertainment value.

"I always feel that if I am to steal time away from someone besides entertaining them (and that's all I am is an entertainer), then I need to give them something to react to. I would certainly want that myself."
As the report points out, Refn's approach is a risky one, as it is bound to make his movies (at least, the ones that are as subjective as the Neon Demon) very polarizing and, therefore, not recipients of overly high ratings on movie review aggregation sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Indeed, reactions to The Neon Demon were very mixed, ranging from scathing declarations that the movie was "stultifyingly vapid" and "excruciatingly pompous" to rave reviews (such as Stuckmann's) heralding The Neon Demon as a future cult classic.

Refn seemed totally fine with The Neon Demon's mixed reviews, though, seeming confident that, even though some might not realize it in the short term, film-goers generally enjoy being challenged by movies. This is even true for the younger generation, Refn says.

"I don't believe that young people want to be told what to think. I think that there is a need for an experience over anything else," he explained.

"We live in a time where we fear more making up our own minds than having someone tell us what to do. I think that is so wrong. I do think that, in the end, people think it's wrong... The fun of entertainment is experiencing the unexpected. That means that certain things are not what we call standard machinery."
The interviewer acknowledged Refn's point, but he also asked if Refn and Martinez thought there was any room in the world of commercial movies for a film like The Neon Demon. After all, he pointed out, the movie is not nearly as accessible to the average movie-goers as most blockbusters.

"I think The Neon Demon has the potential to connect with people. There are a lot of commercial themes and a lot of stuff to talk about in the film that could propel it to mainstream acceptance," responded Martinez.

Refn was a bit more coy in his reply, alluding that The Neon Demon would be accepted by the masses in due time.
"I think it's very accessible, but it's what you make it. It's like someone asks you 'Do you think 2001: A Space Odyssey is a commercial movie?"
Ambitious words, Nick.

Have you seen The Neon Demon? Is it just a bit too far out there to ever find mainstream success? Or does it strike just the right balance of ambiguity and tangible plot elements?

[Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]