Only God Forgives Film Review
Figure 1: Movie PosterOnly God forgives is a 2013 film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansrigarm and Kristin Scott Thomas. It is a Danish-French thriller/action film which features a lot of Thai language subtitles and spoken dialogue. It is set in and filmed in Bangkok, Thailand.
After the first time watching this film, the story line and plot is not very clear, it is not an obvious film that describes itself through imagery of through dialogue. The timeline changes throughout the film, changing setting randomly, fast forwarding to future scenes, and returning to previous scenes the audience thought were over. It takes a while to realise that the timeline is shifting about, as it is not done obviously until we see a specific scene carried on later in the film. We see Ryan goslings character, Julien, alternate between two different types of character. One wears a white shirt and the other wears a black, and we often see these two characters spliced into the same scene, which almost makes sense to watch, but is very dreamlike as we see two very different outcomes of the same scene at the same time. For example when Julien, wearing a white shirt, is sitting in a bar watching a girl rough a curtain. At the same time we see Julien wearing a black shirt interacting with the girl, in the same scene. We do not see the two characters as two different people, they are never on the same screen beside each other, but we see them one after the other, creating a confusing scene for the viewer. The viewer is left feeling uneasy and confused, as the film does not e plain the meaning of these two different realities. We do not know if one of them is real and one is a hallucination, or they are both realities just at different times, as a very odd way of showing passing time. This effect is successful in making the audience look for a hidden meaning, and makes them eager and curious to know what is going on.
The first impression the audience gets of colour, is highly saturated orange hues, sometimes accented by blues. In an opening scene, we see Julien standing in a room whose walls have a mosaic cut out pattern, lit from outside, so that bright orange sunset light streams through the patterns and lights up the room in strange rays of orange and black. Julien is standing I front of the wall, so his figure is just a silhouette surrounded by streaming orangey red hues. Throughout the film we see the colour orange and red closely associated with violence, fighting and masculinity. All of the fighting areas are lit in floods of red, with black shadows always making a vignette effect around the edges. It is very contrasting and psychedelic to watch.
Figure 3: Film Still“Refn's Lynchian nightmare never makes you think that he is not in absolute control of his gripping arthouse work, as he masterfully crafts a hypnotizing atmosphere of otherworldliness that should hit you hard in the guts with visceral power and crushing intensity.” (Carlos Magalhães, 2013)
As confusing as the story is, this quote by Magalhaes sums up that this is just Refn’s style, he is in control of the story and he is making you see and feel what he wants you to see and feel. He does this by creating heavy atmospheres and moods which are so intense the audience is left feeling exactly how Refn wants them to.
Also throughout the film, women characters seem to be surrounded by blue and neutral white/ grey tones, which the film came to associate with femininity and not violence. The mother, Crystal, is introduced to the audience in a burst of pink in a neutral coloured hotel reception which is a big change in the film so far, compared to the violent reds and blues. From this colour and set change we see that this introduction of the character indicates that she will be a big part in the rest of the film.
The set in the first part of the film is very old fashioned, and so is a lot of the fighting scenes. In the scenes that we see fighting, there are a lot of dirty street views, and old unfurnished buildings. We are first introduced to a room where there are no lights within, and the cut out walls are made of old stone, and it seems the only furnishings the room has is a big statue of a fighter in the middle, and a bench. Wherever we see women, the set changes to be more modern and pleasing, with pillows and neutral coloured furnishings.
In this film women are not treated as equal to men. A main female character, Mai, is a prostitute, and she is always being talked down to, especially in a scene where Julien and his mother are having dinner, Crystal says crude things about her life and afterwards Julien shouts at her in a rather unsettling scene, to take of her dress in the middle of a street. She is objectified, and the way she is introduced to us tells us about the way she is going to be portrayed throughout the film.
Other women in the film, such as the women who were singing, are told to be quiet and close their eyes as the men fight and are violent. The women are no part of the violence in any part of the film, and sit by letting things happen. This creates an uneasy feeling for the viewer, as sexism is not socially accepted in today's society.
Figure 2 Film Still“Ryan Gosling reunites with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for the ultra-violent, ultra-slow-moving Bangkok-set revenge thriller Only God Forgives, whose unflinching gore and crawling pace will probably prove equally off-putting to most viewers.” (Jason Best, 2013)
In this quote, Best describes the director’s style to always be violent, such as another one of his films starring Ryan Gosling, Drive. He also says that like before in his previous creations, he has a slow pace, often paired with a simple plot which may have been more effective in a fast-paced film.
There is a lot of symbolism in the film, it is a film which explorers masculinity and impotence. The image of hands, and the fear of hands being cut off is a big thing in the film no occurs a lot. Julian's fear of his hands being cut off explores Julian’s fear of impotence, and his fear of not being as masculine as others, such as his brother who, according to Crystal, was his biggest upset as he was not as strong or masculine as him.
“Like it or not, this is a study in weakness, submission, impotence, symbolic castration even.” (David Sexton, 2013)
Julian’s hands were symbolic to be an extension of his masculinity and a symbol of his strength. Like in this quote by Sexton, he describes the film as having strong messages of weakness and even castration, which we can see through the fear of the loss of hands. To have no hands would mean to Julien that he is less than a man.
The importance of hands in the film could be religious, as we see Julian’s hands right at the end, waiting to be cut off, with palms up and open, before curling into a fist. This seemed to be a biblical reference, maybe pleading to a god with his palms open for forgiveness. This theory seems to fit as it is right at the end of the film, and Julien seems to have gotten rid of all of his biggest rivals, his mother, his brother, and it seems like the end of his mission and now he is asking for forgiveness. Even accepting that his hands would be cut off in the end as a means to forgiveness.
There is also a part where we see Julien reaching his hand into a wound he made in his mother’s abdomen, reaching into maybe her womb. This further explores the way he treats women, and the way women are portrayed in the film. It is very unnerving to see the mother’s relationship to Julien, it seems too intimate, by the way she touches him and also the way she talks about her other son, in a sexual manner. This hand inside his dead mother’s womb may be a way of Julien showing his hate or dislike towards his mother and the way she treated him when she was alive. This may be a disconnection between them, going back to where he was first made and disgracing it. His treatment of women is maybe an exploration of his ability to only be able to have a relationship with no one else but his mother.
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Figure 2: Screenmusings.org, (2015). [Online] Available at: http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Only-God-Forgives/images/Only-God-Forgives-137.jpg [Accessed 11 Dec. 2015].
Evening Standard, (2013). Only God Forgives - film review. [Online] Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/film/only-god-forgives-film-review-8743172.html [Accessed 11 Dec. 2015].
Rottentomatoes.com, (2015). Only God Forgives. [Online] Available at: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/only_god_forgives_2013/ [Accessed 11 Dec. 2015].
Figure 1: T2.gstatic.com, (2015). [Online] Available at: http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR0Tb8jzitxu2UKF5QrbIz9uNnHEin22YZwCp2qJ7zyh6dWXh0_ [Accessed 11 Dec. 2015].
What’s on TV, (2015)? Only God Forgives | Film review - Ryan Gosling loses his cool in Drive director's ultra-gory Bangkok thriller. [Online] Available at: http://www.whatsontv.co.uk/blog/movietalk/only-god-forgives-film-review-ryan-gosling-loses-his-cool-in-drive-directors-ultra-gory-bangkok-thriller [Accessed 11 Dec. 2015].