' ' Cinema Romantico: Only God Forgives

Monday, July 29, 2013

Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling, our ostensible hero, whose character has a name but who I kept thinking of as Moody Ryan Gosling, is on the verge of going a few illegal rounds with Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) - perhaps the God of the title because he continually unsheathes a machete from thin air (although he's not much for forgiveness). What strikes you about this moment in particular is Gosling's attire. He has just been to a pricey, if icy, dinner, and is done up to the hilt in a finely cut three piece suit. Yet, in advance of being bloodied, bruised and bashed, he has only removed his jacket. He is a man in a two piece suit, sleeves rolled up, getting much, much worse than he gives.

"Only God Forgives" is the classiest excessively violent film you will see. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also wrote, sets the film in Bangkok, mainly the Red Light District it seems because he saturates the film in so much creepy crimson that it actually works to sort of distort all the blood that gets spilled. And rest assured, a significant deal of blood gets spilled.

A reviewer, of course, is typically expected to provide at least a bare bones synopsis, to present the reader his or her bearings, but I struggle to determine just what the hell I'm supposed to synopsis-ize. Let's see. Man's Brother is murdered. Man's and Brother's Mother turns up to assist in exacting revenge. Pitch concluded. Roll film.

If there is any humanity - by which I simply mean the condition of being a human and not some noble, ineffable quality - in "Only God Forgives", it is found in Kristin Scott Thomas's as the vengeance-seeking Mother, a quintessential blowhard American who strides into the film with her cigarettes and profanity and begins issuing orders. With her bleached blonde hair and, uh, idiosyncratic parenting methods, I swear she's channeling Dina Lohan. Don't be surprised if Lindsay winds up fighting in the Ghang-gheng for the Golden Dragon.

Most of the film's dialogue belongs to Thomas and the remainder of the screenplay must not have been much more than a sketchbook for the potential poses Ryan Gosling could strike. He does so little with his face, though, you will find yourself fixating on his slightly slashed eyebrow and considering what its supposed to symbolize.

All this might make it easy to dismiss "Only God Forgives" as nothing beyond an exercise in filmmaking, which should not necessarily lead to a dismissal, but I dare say Refn, in his own weird way, is up to something. Consider the striking prostitute named Mai (Rhatha Phongam) that Moody Ryan Gosling routinely visits and even briefly asks to pose as his better half. An early scene finds Mai tying Gosling's hands to a chair, sitting on the edge of the bed across from him and pleasuring herself - presumably for his benefit. But as she does, Gosling's mind flashes to disturbing images of having his hands sliced off by Chang's machete. Yikes.

This will occur again at moments of what should be high erotica - Gosling dreaming of his hands going the way of firewood. Meanwhile his murdered Brother (Tom Burke), whose murder sets in motion the theoretical story, is murdered because he sought out a prostitute, not to gain pleasure but to murder her.

Violence in lieu of sex, over and over. In other words, Refn's real fetish here is violence. It reminded me of a James Toback line regarding the know-it-all MPAA: "They would rather watch someone be beheaded than be licked."

So apparently would Refn.


Anonymous said...

You write so beautifully, Nick. Honestly though, I have ZERO (no, minus) interest in seeing this. Not a fan of Refn's style nor Gosling's. Still, it's interesting to read what others think of something I'd never see, and your writing style is always a delight, even if the subject matter I find to be very repulsive.

– ruth

Nick Prigge said...

Too kind, Ruth. Too kind.

Yeah, this is a VERY specific kind of film. And I didn't even mention the karaoke!