Posts Tagged ‘guilt’

Only God Forgives – Nicolas Winding Refn

only-god-forgives-786998l“This isn’t about your dead daughter.
It’s about your other living daughters.
This is to make sure you never forget them.”

The narrative has only a main plot there are no secondary stories. The secondary characters’ existence is completely linked to the main protagonist and antagonist characters’ motifs. Some extras are used but not to create a background, an atmosphere of life going on alongside this particular drama but only to raise the conflict’s death toll or to witness its development. Everybody is involved.

This undistracted focus leads inherently to leitmotifs and a kind of static and mannerist mise-en scene, acting and use of color.

The use of such a rigid structure when the story is about the murdering of an under-aged prostitute by an American interloper and the unorthodox way of handling the investigation by a sword-bearing police lieutenant is not very common. If the target audience is the very patient art-house cinemagoer keen on bloodbath à l’asiatique then it becomes a solution.

Therefore Only God Forgives cannot be an action movie Hollywood style nor European style. It is not a story about individuals: some crazy brother, his “different” little brother, their unscrupulous mother and a sadistic cop. They are symbols, archetypes, if you like.

Nicolas Winding Refn dedicates this movie to Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky so this must be more than a revenge story in Bangkok. Jodorowsky has made a lot of films denouncing American hegemony, west’s invasive culture and imperialism. So maybe Refn’s is not bowing necessarily in front of Jodorowsky’s artistry but more likely in front of his sociopolitical views.

Refn’s story is about racism, xenophobia, the clash between the white intruder and the local “Chinese nigger”. They ceased a long time ago to be the curious tourist or the bystander ex-pat and the ever-smiling native host obedient to tourist whim. Most probably they never really were in a sincerely friendly relationship. The native is now fed up with the rich, abusive foreigner.

The native cop’s character, Chang (Vithaya Pansringram), is probably the most intriguing. He is the quintessence of fight against acculturation and white man’s abuse. All we know about his personal life is that he has a family but the only family scene we witness is about a conversation with his wife regarding dinner, traditional dish, naturally. He prefers to render justice with a traditional sword and he tortures with objects that can be emblems on sex tourism brochures. The most extraordinary elements are his Karaoke performances in front of his fellow officers with The Great Chinese Wall in the background. Some surrealist political statement!

The little brother, Julian (Ryan Gosling), is stuck between two worlds. The one he viscerally belongs to and the one he mentally wants to be in. But he has not yet escaped his prejudices. He’s still a xenophobic; the reason he does not dare to touch the native girl is a mixture of that and the guilt of being an intruder. He has not yet escaped homophobia; the emasculation his mother puts him through still weighs on him. His sense of guilt is actually what creates the whole atmosphere and guilt is what this story is built on. It haunts him like it haunts Lady Macbeth. He obsessively checks his own hands, the tools of crime. “Out damned spot!” becomes his nightmare too.

The mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), is Lady Macbeth without the guilt part, she is the white superiority complex, Home Country, Uncle Sam, western hegemony, holding all her children by their balls.

To escape from her sultry womb is impossible without a painful cut.

Antichrist – Lars von Trier

An accident happens during sexual intercourse between a man and a woman then medical treatment is refused by the man in treating the woman’s grief and sense of guilt. Finally, both of them go to the woods where he thinks she can overcome the trauma.

This way Lars von Trier unleashes medieval fear upon his characters and upon us. The forest is the ultimate alien space in the medieval Christian imaginary, the most feared one. Those who entered the forest or lived by the forest were feared, outcasts. Embracing nature was a first sign of being astray from Christian rules, a sign of witchcraft. Medicine itself was seen as evil, illness was believed to be sent by God as punishment. Not so long ago – some of us still believe that – mental illness was seen as demonic possession, weakness of character or lack of common sense.

Lars von Trier places his two characters in the middle of the forest and isolates them from their cerebrum. Repeated shots of her and, towards the end, his back head (cerebellum and brain stem) leads to this conclusion. The old brain, where fear, dominance, reflexes, unconsciousness lie is what drives the two characters through a horrible experience. Their journey is telling us the archetypal story about man and his first encounter with “otherness”, which is not the wild beast he has to hunt down for his own protection, nor natural disasters, these are far from being his equal enemies – these probably made him imagine the gods – but the woman. So close and yet so far he had to tame her in order not to fear her.

But these are not served the easy way. The movie’s discourse is based on medieval Christian judgments and misogyny and it is launched on at least two channels. His attitude towards her is emblematic for the treatment of women by men in history: “dominant but benevolent”. This channel is the wicked one, because it is in focus and that makes it seem rational. The other channel is the tricky one and is led by her. She is the patient, worthy of compassion up until she utters the ideas of the ancient believes on nature and woman’s nature. She becomes scary; suddenly her sexuality is demonic and irrational. The impact of a misogynistic discourse held by a woman is quite unsettling. Does she really think what she’s saying or is she provoking a reaction in the man who clings to his rationality? But is he really rational? Now she doesn’t seem a traumatized person anymore but a possessed one, don’t you think, dear Moses, Christian and Farouk? Towards the end, even if the story does not literally transcend the boundaries of medieval Christian believes, we can sense archetypes that are reasoning with all patriarchal believes.

Antichrist is what I expected a movie directed by Lars von Trier to be; an introspection in humanity. It is hard to face it, hard to stay distant from it because it works like a mirror. What does the fear of “otherness” have to do with Antichrist? Probably everything. Lars von Trier stylishly opens and closes the movie in black and white and slow motion. He even uses the same musical theme, but that is not for style but for another thing to chew on: Freedom.

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