Only God Forgives

5 Aug

I went to see Only God Forgives yesterday, the second collaboration between Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling. I loved Drive and when I found out that the two were working together on a new film set in Thailand I was extremely happy. And then I went to see the film.

Since I left the cinema last night I’ve been trying to figure out why the film didn’t work and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be far easier to first think about the parts of it I actually did enjoy. The soundtrack, while extremely minimal, was great. If the film beneath it had more substance it genuinely would have added a lot. For the majority of the film it’s composed of odd, unsettling sounds and synths and strings that build and build and are so intense that they made me really try to enjoy the trainwreck I was watching. Most of the film is beautifully shot. The red and blue lighting that fills the screen from start to finish is definitely pretty but takes far too much from Drive and is altogether too repetitive.  Some of the cinematography really annoyed me, though. There were an incredible amount of shots that viewed the ‘action’ through apertures like doorways, etc., providing a very narrow view for us to watch the characters. Although I suspect there was a reason for that (which I’ll come back to later).

Screenings of this film should replace waterboarding.

The actual plot centers around the death of Gosling’s brother who was murdered for raping and killing a sixteen year old prostitute. Gosling’s mother insists that blood be paid for with more blood and sets in motion a plot to avenge her son’s death. A decent premise, you’d think, and yet in the 90 minutes it takes to conclude it struggles, and I mean struggles, to even fill up this time. That’s because that premise is not added to in anyway. There are no twists, no subplots, only the question: does her plan work? Watch it if you’d like to find out; it’s really not that interesting though.

This problem of trying to stretch this film to feature length is ‘fixed’ by the addition of strange dream sequences and pointlessly surreal imagery as well as a ridiculous amount of slow motion and characters actually moving painfully slowly (for no good reason) in real time as we watch and beg for them to get to the fucking point. The surreal aspects of the film did not work in any way whatsoever. I love David Lynch and watching this film made me think that Winding had just discovered Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive and thought ‘Hey, I can do that!’ and then failed miserably.

As well as the surreal elements, the film contains a horrendous amount of extremely heavy-handed sexual/incest/Oedipal under/overtones that are entirely unnecessary and approached with all the subtlety of an elephant walking through a bubble wrap factory. Gosling’s character wants a loving, nurturing mother again(? did he ever have one?) and I suspect that the cinematography (the narrow views through doorways I mentioned earlier) is intended to resemble the view from inside a vagina and to mirror his wish to return to a safe, nurturing environment (the womb). I know that sounds insane but, seriously, the ending of the film alone (really) backs this up.

In short, I hated this film and am so disappointed. The reason Drive worked with its lack of dialogue was because the characters had real motives, they were believable human beings and their actions toward one another often spoke louder than any words could have. This film is full of dull, almost entirely unsympathetic characters doing next to nothing and the result is an astoundingly boring 90 minutes.



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