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Only God Forgives

Posted by martinteller on July 22, 2013

This film seems to be crying out for a non-traditional review.  And really, I might need more time — and possibly a second viewing — to truly process it.  So I’m just going to forgo the usual plot summary (it’s basically all in the trailer anyway) and throw out some disorganized thoughts….

The most telling credit is the dedication to Jodorowsky.  Like El Topo, this movie is a souped-up spaghetti western awash with mythology, religion and symbolism.  And like Jodorowsky, some of it is pretty blunt.  You couldn’t ask for a more on-the-nose Oedipal allegory.  There are images of the underworld, and God/Satan figures, and Death.  There are legendary artifacts and what appear to be prophecies or premonitions.  Complaints that the characters are shallow or the plotting is minimal and predictable seem misguided to me.  Refn is crafting a mythology here, and legends are shallow fables that reflect man’s foibles.  It is not just a story about the corruptive nature of vengeance like Park’s trilogy, it feels like it has a broader reach than that.

Besides Jodorowsky, the obvious filmmaker that comes to mind is Lynch.  Certain scenes are especially evocative of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, and possibly Wild at Heart.  The dreamlike aesthetic and mysterious settings, the heightened sound design, the use of black humor, the sense of people sleepwalking through an unreal world all bring Lynch to mind.  In Drive, Refn appeared to be channeling Michael Mann.  Lynch is harder to pull off properly, and in some cases Refn’s stylizations do feel a little overcooked.

But when they work, they work beautifully.  I’m a sucker for a vivid color palette, and this film’s use of deep reds and colored lights is something special.  Framing and composition and camera movement are all very stimulating and expressive (one image that sticks with me is the henchman wearing the death mask, double framed through doorways).  And Cliff Martinez continues to be one of the finest composers working in film today, the score is captivating.  I love those big tuba hits that sound like foghorns.

The violence is needlessly sadistic, at least in one particular scene.  This god is a cruel god, but there’s cruel and then there’s empty shock value.

I’d really like to let this kick around my brain a while, especially once I’ve had a second viewing.  Perhaps it is merely a case of “style over substance”, as many critics have charged.  But I found a lot to chew on after the credits rolled.  Rating: Very Good (82)

IMDb
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One Response to “Only God Forgives”

  1. OMG!!! YAY!!!

    We are aligning a lot this year. :')

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