Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Only God Forgives Film Review

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives is a film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and released in the UK in 2013, it main theme is of revenge and the oppression by a mother of her son. The film takes place in Bangkok where an American gets asked by his mother to avenge the death of his murdered brother which he always envied. Along the way the main character is pursued tenaciously by a Thai police officer which inevitably leads to acts of savagery and violence.

 The use of colour is vividly used throughout the film as a descriptive factor to the scene or sometimes the absence of it. At the beginning of the film, the colours red and blue dominate in which red is used to symbolize incoming or occurring acts of violence, sexuality or passion and blue mostly being the primal colour of the police officer who seems to have no emotions at all or at least his emotions very much under control. This contrast of colour perhaps illustrating the definitions and differences between these two characters.

Figure 1. Julian (2013)

 Also in the film there is a presence of vivid and overbearing black shadows which are a feature that perhaps seems to emphasise secrecy, this is masterfully coupled with the red in certain scenes to have a dramatic effect: as Pride states Red-slaked corridors that push toward darkest blacks in one-point perspective contain more violence than the guns and broadswords his characters wield.” (Pride, 2014:2) demonstrating perhaps the fear of inevitable violence the viewer experiences while watching the long shots slowly closing into the shadows. Towards the end the colours tend to show more yellow and natural seeming lights than reds and blues which might indicate a change of mood or mental state of the main character in relation to his mother and the new calm entering his mind.

Figure 2. Mother (2013)

 Sound is used effectively as a medium to perhaps sometimes distance the viewer from the scene as in some of the most violent parts, the sound of some scene cuts of completely and is replaced by music. Perhaps to emphasise to the viewer the content of the scene is so horrific it can’t be put into words, or sound.

 Violence is a very strong theme in Only God Forgives, crimes and torture scenes alike sometimes seem to be features only for an aesthetic purpose, as Adams states: In one torture scene set in a fancy bordello where Chang uses an associate of Billy and Julian for a pin cushion, it’s the images of the elegant prostitutes with their perfect make-up and hair closing their eyes to the violence at Chang’s insistence that tattoo themselves on the viewer’s retinas. Plot, what plot?” (Adams, 2013:2) This perhaps demonstrating that the film has moments of almost artistic gore and violence that do leave a lasting impression on the viewer, but perhaps some of the scenes have sacrificed a sense of reality and plot to achieve this. There are several moments like this throughout the film which sacrifice story for elevated levels of cruelty and violence.

Figure 3. Julian fighting (2013)

 The pacing has a very interesting timing to it as sometimes, the scene just seems to freeze where the characters and set cease moving, the viewer might perhaps be fooled into believing he might be looking at a photo with music playing over it giving a moment or two of heightened and brilliant suspense. These “snapshots” occur throughout the movie. In one such scene where the policeman is singing karaoke in a bar which already is very out of his character the camera switches to the audience, still and lifeless with the aquarium light dominating the scene. This almost gives the viewer a sense of surrealism, like it isn’t happening, perhaps a dream. The use of these moments is perhaps in attempt to unnerve the viewer and add spice to the violence of other scenes.

 Overall I would have to agree with Simms: “Baffling and hypnotic, OGF boasts an aesthetically assured composition but its flagrant dismissal of pacing and plot serve to undermine not beguile.” (Simms, N.A.:2). I found Only God Forgives to be aesthetically pleasing and interesting, perfectly delivering some moments of pure dread and terror as well as disgust but I feel these scenes overwhelm the movie and plot and perhaps at points almost ruin the movie itself, like adding too much spice to a curry.


Simms, Gareth. (N.A.) http://letterboxd.com/garethsimms/film/only-god-forgives/ (Accessed on 09/12/2014)

Illustration List:

Figure 1: Winding, N. (2013) Julian [Still of Julian]. Available from: http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/wwfeatures/624_351/images/live/p0/19/dh/p019dh8b.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/2014)
Figure 2: Winding, N. (2013) Mother [Still of Julian’s Mother]. Available from:  http://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Only-God-Forgives-Ryan-Gosling-Vithaya-Pansringarm-2.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/2014)
Figure 3. Winding, N. (2013) Julian fighting [Still of Julian and Police Officer]. Available from:  http://www.dvdactive.com/images/reviews/screenshot/2013/10/20131023010647405_original.jpg (Accessed on 09/12/2014)

1 comment:

  1. A very thorough and thoughtful review Mailin :)
    Try not to slip into the 1st person, as you have done at the end here, as it takes your review from being objective to being subjective and personal - you want to try and keep that academic voice at all times.