From the beginning I had the idea of a thriller produced as a western, says the writer and director of Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn. His credit includes films like Bronson; Valhalla Rising and Drive. This film marks the second feature length film of the director for me; after seeing it, it felt like I had to find myself a first aid kit. It runs short, unfortunately in length; though it completes, as a film, its purpose. And also it quite stylishly conveys its message. Notably the film manages in its surface to construe the definition of its very subtext.
Refn’s oeuvre remains, fortunately, gloomy, tenebrous, authentic; extreme, lyrical and elegiac in its structure, often presenting itself in fade outs and dissolves to scenes for us that are being presented in calm manner. Brings to mind his previous compelling thriller, Drive. But, Only God Forgives, shows Refn’s immense love with colors and even more violence in utter silence. It also often feels like as we are watching a silent film; it is either that Refn takes notes from Stanley Kubrick or it’s just that, as it is often obvious, from westerns by Sergio Leone. – Julian (Ryan Gosling), a drug smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld sees his life get even more complicated when his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) compels him to find and kill the individual responsible for the recent death of his younger brother.
Shot on location in Bangkok, the camera is set to capture the night environment of the city. Ominous and intimidating; the camera even often remains for long on characters capturing their expressions and their communication with eyes. The colors such as red, orange, purple, pink and yellow are presented in the streets and mostly in the interiors. A hallway presented entirely in red, is shot perhaps as a metaphor, to blood pouring out from the elevators in the hallway in Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. Only God Forgives can be seen from the point of view of the director. Mainly it is its environment and plot I am referring to, as we don’t see from the point of view of the characters, especially Julian’s. Though, what we see what’s happening can be said that often the world in the story can be seen from the point of view of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), the Thai Police Lieutenant.
If seen from the point of view of the viewer, it’s a man’s war with himself as Julian is in search of faith; a way to be found so his soul can find peace. Deep, in its subtext, Only God Forgives, is truly a man’s war, not with his existence only, but with God. And man challenging God to fight. – Refn indicates the consequences of man’s war with himself and God. – Finding solace within the patterns of tragedy. And, man’s concerning, though very bitter questioning of the womb in which man has formed and took shape in.
The brilliance of Refn is in the essentiality of the film’s subtext and setting tone and atmosphere. He collides with colors, mood, violence, sex, sound and silence. The color of tears, colorless as it is, if one looks closely, it still can be seen. He often, as he is audacious, even provides meaning to things that are yet to be defined. Such as, for Julian, the importance of inserting slowly his hand into his mother’s Uterus; challenging his viewers, to comprehend perhaps the limits of art, giving each pattern a meaning, drawing a new phase, opening more doors towards ideas.
Only God Forgives is a thrilling ride in its own rights. It’s a compelling piece of cinema.