Deuxième critique en anglais que j’ai écrite pour un cours de cinéma lors d’un semestre d’études aux États-Unis. Il y a quelques mois, sur le même film, je me suis plié à l’exercice en français. Cette fois-ci ce sera en anglais, plus poussé que ma première initiative.
In Bagkok, Julian (Ryan Gosling), who escaped from the American justice, runs a Thai boxing club undercovering drug traffic. His mother (Kristen Scott Thomas), boss of a large criminal organization in the United-States comes in Thailand to repatriate her beloved son’s body: Billy (Tom Burke). Indeed, Julian’s brother just got killed after savagely assassinating a young prostitute. Filled with anger and revenge, Julian and his mother are going to face Chang (Vithaya Pansringram), an unusual retired policeman, idolized by the other cops…
Only God Forgives is a diamond of photography, fashioned under the magnifying glass of a Swiss goldsmith. No Danish actually. The filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, accompanied with his director of photography Larry Smith gives us a psychoanalytic analysis of the film main protagonist, perfectly respecting the formalist tradition.
Ryan Gosling irrational imbroglio of dreaming fantasies morally defines him and his relations with his relatives. His personality is a tip to the hat to the Kuleshov effect. His expressionless and now world-known face juxtaposed with erotic shots expresses his psychological sexual inability due to a strong Oedipus complex. Unfit to feel sexual desires, Ryan Gosling tries to provoke them, searches them in the unknown shadows of a symbolic open door or the aggressive lights of strip clubs. But he searches in vain, always caught up by his effective sexual substitute, cold and barbaric brutality. Allegorical and subjective shots abstractly define his obsession. Zoom-ins on him represents psychological disorder and zoom-outs represent his oneiric projections. Parallel editing alternating two different time scenes of Ryan Gosling sexual touching suggest temporal irrelevance, proper to dreams. Julian is tormented by a tough childhood and an imposing mother. Kristen Scott Thomas embodies the powerful, egocentric parent. Lines and perspectives in full or medium shots are each time symmetric and ordered in an eye-angle view giving her stature, strengthening her presence. During the dinner, she is protected by an army of crystal glasses forming a wall of towers around her, symbolizing power and money. Always, filmed full-front when alone, her head slightly inclined, smoking a cigarette, she is visually highlighted. When accompanied with her son, she stands he sits; she looks down he looks up, proving her hold on him. We constantly wonder if this overwhelmingly extravagant woman is real or if she is the projection of her son’s dreams and desires. Dialogues between them are too absurd, cynically comic. Overall, Nicolas Winding Refn Freudian dissection of Gosling represents him as a violent, sexually frustrated person wanting to free his superego urges.
Nevertheless, his irrational urges are facing his id control and moral judgment. He is evolving in a filthy and reprehensible city where crime is daily life. If we concentrate on the work of lights and colors, in the night of an insomniac phosphorescent, fluorescent and colorful city, sunbeams, forsaken streetlights and breathless neon lights represent social oppression and disorganization. Between long medium shots, tracking shots and zooms, the camera subtly and gently rambles in the middle of Bangkok’s literal and figurative darkness. An analysis of color choices can be made. Two dominant colors redundantly pop out: blue for justice, red for sin. The box club, the hooker-killer brother, Ryan Gosling sexual dreams, the family diner, the duel fight and more, all of these scenes are in a red range of color. In opposition, most of the bad-ass avenging policeman interventions are colored in a range of blue. Therefore, Nicolas Winding Refn closed form world is not bad or good, justice or sin. It is both. That is why some scenes cleverly mix the two colors. For example, as Vithaya Pansringram sings a song in front of his workmates, he is encircled with a blue halo, but the other policemen struggle between top red Chinese lanterns and blue sapphire aquariums. They defend justice but in a sinful manner. In the vengeance scene of the mourning Thai father killing his daughter’s assassin, transition occurs. From night blue before the kill, his face fades to bloody red after the kill. Juxtapositions, contrasts or dominants of these colors create a new sense to the image. The dramatic collision of opposite colors creates a conflict with a whole new sense, the same way Eisenstein believed ideas come from the conflict of two antagonisms. Continuing this color analysis, some characters have specific situational colors. The mother flashes in green, symbolizing power and money. When the policeman avenger is at his peaceful home, no artificial color work is done, white and black is neutral land, pure but sad reality.
Colors, lights and shots express Ryan Gosling moral struggle but Vithaya Pansringram bad-ass God the title of the film talks about embodies his Freudian id, his moral policeman. When he cuts a sinful man in two with his saber, people around him religiously watch the ritual death sentence. The saber comes out of his back from nowhere and inevitably strikes its opponents, like the grim reaper scythe. In the scene where he stabs with metal sticks the thug who ordered his death, he pops out of nowhere, all the characters are closing their eyes, as if God was divinely stepping in. Nobody wins against God. That is why during the fight scene with Ryan Gosling, he almost beats him to death, getting away “the ring of judgment” dangling, round-shouldered as an alien. In the finale scene, he cuts Gosling’s hands in a weird wild place. Policemen, his angels, are once again watching. Lightning is blinding thanks to an optical filter. It represents the day of reckoning.
Finally, the surrounding silence emphasizes Ryan Gosling extreme and omnipresent moral struggle. When music begins, organs and synthesizers explode from the speakers, violence bursts, reaching the film irrationality and psychoanalytic pinnacle. We are trapped between sweaty anxieties and deafening buzzing, just as Gosling is trapped between his superego and his id.
Painting a psychoanalytic picture with formalist tricks is for Nicolas Winding Refn an appropriate and well-executed choice but highly risky for a larger audience to understand by its inborn complexity. Emotions over logic.