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Auteurship and Genre as Explored Through Refn’s the Neon Demon

Autor:   •  November 28, 2018  •  2,569 Words (11 Pages)  •  231 Views

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works; in fact, the dialogue is often what states his themes, while the visuals serve to relay the feelings related to those themes. In this particular work, his theme is said quite eloquently by Elle Fanning: “Beauty isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.” The Neon Demon, much like his other films as well, leans heavily on the use of mirrors to, in this case, display Fanning’s dive into narcissism--kissing herself seductively in the mirror symbolizes her immersion and acceptance of this overwhelming narcissism and the power it heralds in the modern world. The personal argument of the auteur theory is also somewhat confirmed through Refn. Admitting that The Neon Demon was indeed inspired by personal details of his life suggests that the auteur does implement personal opinions into his or her work. However, the fact that the viewer would have to be told of these connections undermines this theory, suggesting that the idea of the director as the stylist and auteur is vastly more prominent than that of the director using the film as a blatant mouthpiece. And while Refn is the auteur, he also holds the view that “an auteur doesn’t have to write every single word,” insisting that while the auteur steers the movie, it takes a team to create a film and bring it, uniquely, to life (2011). This notion is only strengthened by his unique choice to film his works chronologically, allowing the characters and the film itself to take on life via its actors, writers, and creators, morphing and evolving in an organic way. In fact, Refn scrapped The Neon Demon’s second half due to Fanning’s and Malone’s acting, allowing it to find its own life.

As a psychological thriller, Refn’s work follows the general and consistent characteristics of showing moral ambiguity as seen through the carnivorous and barbaric nature of the women, complex inter-character relationships like Malone’s desire for Fanning’s pureness and innocence, a dissolving sense of reality as seen through Fanning’s descent into paranoia via nightmares, and the use of male characters as “MacGuffins,” disappearing halfway through the film as they outlast their usefulness. The film, however, tends to share more similarities with “art film,” which arguably exists as its own genre. Through a loose cause and effect structure, Refn pushes the viewer to look more into the characters and what they mean themselves rather than connecting events with outside sources. This “reliance upon psychological causation… [or] characters and their effects on one another” shifts the focus onto the characters, unveiling a hunger for power via an obsession with beauty (Bordwell 651). Malone’s desire of Fanning, culminating in the act of eating her and bathing in her blood, demonstrates this intense lust for domineering beauty. Along with other typical characteristics, Refn features characters who “wander out and never reappear,” analyses at individual rather than group levels, a resolution that is far from clear-cut, an “attempt to pronounce judgment on ‘modern life,’” and constant violations of the cultural norm through his filmic conversation about the normalcy and acceptance of modern self-obsession, all aimed at confronting the audience with the task of self-analysis and interpretation (Bordwell 651-4). While Refn’s film seems to substantiate the claim of genre to some degree, the looseness of its ties to any one genre and its ability to be adapted to fit other genres as well negates the firm theory of genre, instead suggesting that, once again, meaning is ultimately left to the eye of the beholder. And while genre may or may not be concretely defined, it is suggested that genre exists as a sphere for the auteur, as while “stylistic devices and thematic motifs may differ from director to director… overall functions of style and theme remain remarkably consistent” (Bordwell 650). Genre, instead of negating the auteur theory, acts as an outline of sorts to help categorize and nurse auteurs and their signatures.

Two other popular topics in film theory are the concepts of formalist and realist cinema. Like most beliefs in film theory and analysis, these topics impact the ideas of genre and auteur, fusing and working alongside them as facets of extracting meaning. Realism and formalism play into the auteur theory by becoming defining characteristics of an auteur’s style. Refn, edging towards formalism and its emphasis on exploiting filmic means to go against traditional reality, envelops formalist techniques as signatures. Other filmmakers, like those involved in Italian Neorealism, adopt aspects and methods of realism instead. More often than not, however, filmmakers utilize both extremes, fused together and mixed to both create their signature styles and relay their messages to audiences. Refn, believing the audience to be comfortable in realism, uses formalism to create enhanced engagement and audience understanding. Through extensive color play, Refn creates meaning through color and saturation--in The Neon Demon, red consistently depicts danger and desire, while blues, yellows, and whites evoke other emotions and symbolize various ideas like innocence and, tranquility, and power. He uses an array of symbols, such as the mountain lion destroying Fanning’s motel room (a warning of beasts, both outside and within) and the blade inserted in her mouth (her fear of metaphorical penetration). Triangles, blood, Fanning’s eye (the first and last thing the audience sees), blades, and even Fanning’s subtly changing wardrobe--Refn carefully crafts his film into one rife with meaning. As far as genre is concerned, these two topics of formalism and realism can, again, become characteristics used to define genres. Art house films rely on going against “the norm,” or traditional cinema, instead opting to exploit formal aspects. Other genres depend on realism to convince the audience of its authenticity, and thus its relevance to modern life.

Continuing with the analysis of both formalism and realism in The Neon Demon, it becomes apparent that Refn uses one more than the other. Immediately recognizable, Refn oversees the crafting of original scores, commonly referred to as neo-noir meets 80s synth pop, to which his films would lose half their atmosphere and feeling if left out. These scores play off of his intense visuals and dramatic camerawork (often featuring extreme angles and movement), providing emotion and audience engagement. Framing becomes entirely important to the film’s meaning as well. Characters are framed to represent their power and place. After Fanning embraces her narcissism, turning into the “neon demon” by donning pink glitter eye makeup and a blue gown to symbolize her being at peace with the power she now possesses, she stands on a diving board over an empty pool, shot from a low angle


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