Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Film Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

Fig.1 Only God Forgives, Movie Poster (2013)
Brought to us by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives is a neo-noir/art-house picture starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas. The film has received varying reviews including 5/5 from Empire Online and only 40% from Rotten Tomatoes. Ali Arikan describes the film for Roger Ebert online as "an overly directed film that strives for effect with each scene. (Arikan, 2013). Although many feel the movie is lacking in certain aspects, the production art and the sound are two of the more successful features. The majority of the film is set at night, immediately giving a more moody and dangerous feel and bright colour is used extensively to depict the feel of the particular scene, predominantly with contrasting blues and reds. (Figs 2 & 3).
Fig.2 Use of colour - blues, Movie Still (2013) 

Fig.3 Use of colour - reds, Movie Still (2013)

The film is set in Bangkok, Thailand and centres around main character Julian, played by Gosling. He is an ex-pat who runs a Muay Thai boxing club which fronts the drug smuggling business he runs with his brother, Billy. Revenge seems to be the main theme of the film and Winding Refn is very graphic and grotesque when it comes to violence. When Billy is killed to avenge the murder of a prostitute, Julian's mother Crystal (Fig.4) arrives to find the man who murdered her son. Also on the scene is the mysterious semi-retired policeman, Chang (Fig.5), known locally as the Angel of Death. Chang, played by Vithaya Pansringarm, has a penchant for karaoke and kills his victims with a bushido sword which he magically produces from behind his back (Fig.6). Ultimately, Chang and Crystal are searching to kill each other, with the frustrated Julian playing 'piggy in the middle'.

Fig.4 Julian's mother, Crystal, Movie Still (2013)
Fig. 5 Chang, the Angel of Death, Movie Still (2013)
Fig.6 Karaoke Chang, Movie Still (2013)
There is an obvious theme in the film of frustration and restraint when it comes to the character of Julian. His mother is very controlling and Julian feels so loyal to her that it affects his relationships with women. He has an obvious love interest in the film but holds back when it comes to any physical contact with her. His fists are clenched often, depicting restriction and also possibly defence (Fig.7). The only time we see a break through in his advances are when his mother is killed and he purposefully cuts open her stomach and puts his hand into her body. This is surely a reference to being back in the womb and the closeness he always longed for but never had. Damon Wise describes the character in his Empire Online review as "a hallucinatory study of guilt and a punishing vision of one man's private purgatory." (Wise, 2013). Gosling has less than 20 lines in the entire film, so much of the portrayal of his character is through his silent emotions and the impression one gets through the absence of dialect.

Fig.7 Julian with clenched fists, Movie Still (2013)
Undoubtedly a film that many will argue over for years to come, Only God Forgives is memorable mainly for its violence, production art, lighting and sound. The ending is unannounced and it would take more than one viewing to completely form opinions. In his Telegraph review, Robbie Collin says "Some of the most adrenalizing moments in motor racing are not the victories but the crashes, and Only God Forgives is the spectacle of a brilliant young director spinning out in style. It's a beautiful disaster." (Collin, 2013). Maybe not a film to suit everyone, but one that will keep you guessing for days about what actually happened. So much so that you will most probably want to watch it again.
Illustration List:
Figure 1 - Only God Forgives (2013) [Movie Poster] At:
(Accessed 09.12.14)
Figure 2 - Use of colour - blues (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed 09.12.14)
Figure 3 - Use of colour - reds (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Figure 4 - Julian's mother, Crystal (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Figure 5 - Chang, the Angel of Death (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Figure 6 - Chang does Karaoke (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Figure 7 - Julian with clenched fists (2013) [Movie Still] At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Arikan, A (19th July 2013), Robert Ebert review, At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Collin, R (1st August 2013), The Telegraph review, At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)
Wise, D (s.d.) Empire Online review, At:
(Accessed on 09.12.14)

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