Thursday, 10 December 2015

Film Review - Only God Forgives

Is Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives a brilliant macabre great film as a stylized violence exercise or as art? In interview with Simon Abrams Refn said "Well, the use of violence is... I guess art is an act of violence, in a way." ( violence-an-interview-with-nicolas-winding-refn)
What is debatable is whether, in this film, Refn goes a bit further and tries to show that violence is an act of art.

Only God Forgives tells a story set in Bangkok in which the main character is Julian (played by Ryan Goslig) who is an American gangster leading a troubled life. His brother murdered a young prostitute and then he is killed by her father. So Julian is in the middle of two extremes: one is her mother, who wants him to avenge the murder of his brother, and the other one is an old policeman who wants to be fair and solve the problems of Julian's family by killing them. The story becomes a kind of nightmare: Bangkok scenarios are defined by neon colors and shadows where torture is treated like an art, and the lighting becomes a character.


The movie received a really negative response from mainstream critics primarily. Rex Reed says: "a diabolical horror called Only God Forgives may not be the worst movie ever made, but it is unquestionably in the top five" ( While this may be true, there are some strong points that I would like to highlight here as well.

Talking about Only God Forgives technical point of view, it's perfect. Refn uses a unique perspective: the long shots, the slow motion and the broken scenes predominate. But also the importance of the calm in which the story is told makes the viewer stop at each of its scenes.

On the other hand, this vengeance trailer focuses on technical details. This results in the film not having a great meaning or a great plot. One of it's negative points is the lack of emotions and the unfinished character development. So Only God Forgives treats a stylized scene oriented towards making violence scenes and characters without emotions.

Perhaps one of the few emotions that are shown in the film is when Julian feels guilty. This is filmed in the scenes in which he looks at his hands carefully. His hands are what he hates but also what define him. Despite this, Julian fails at any time to empathize with the audience.


Finally and as a conclusion, sometimes people forget that essence of the movies resides not only on the way in which they are shown, but also in the reseach of the different approaches that can cause different emotions in the viewer's feelings. The cinema, like any other art, can changein different ways depending on the artist. And despite the thig s that fail in Only God Forgives, Refn has done it quite well regarding the way in which this film has been shot. However, I must agree with Ali Arikan's words abiut the director's suggestion that there is art in violence: "Not only in this take on human relations unoriginal, it's algo sophomoric and blatanty un true" ( I can accept there is something similar to violent art but aldo that there is such thing as artistic violence.

Illustration list:
Image 3: Julian looking at his hands. At:

Bradshaw, P. (2013) ) Only God Forgives Review At:
Wise, D. (2012) Only God Forgives Review At:

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