Volume 17, Issue 3 / March 2013

Nicolas Winding Refn Special

While most filmmakers would consider a divided audience at Cannes to be a disaster or at the very least a significant setback, it’s fitting that Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn would nonchalantly shrug off jeers at Europe’s most celebrated festival. When asked to comment on a smattering of boos at the premier of Only God Forgives, his latest film, Refn’s response for the record was “oh cool” 1 –a measured reaction from an artist who’s no stranger to defying audience expectations. Over the course of his varied career, Refn has alternately been dismissed for his use of graphic violence, focus on cinematic style over substance and propensity for laborious pacing, excesses that some think fit poorly together. Yet while Refn’s critics claim he’s too intellectual for Hollywood or too interested in genre for the art house circuit, he’s managed to balance these competing tendencies throughout his films and accrue a loyal fanbase and a noteworthy filmography. Like his protagonists, Refn the filmmaker gets up when he’s down and refuses to give up. In this issue, we shine a spotlight on Refn’s oeuvre, examining what makes his work so fascinating to so many but also problematic to his critics. First time writer Katerina Korola tackles the thorny issue of gender roles in Refn’s latest and most commercially successful film, Drive, arguing that beneath the film’s post-modern gloss lays a conservative and potentially harmful patriarchal ideology. In light of the cult of Gosling that has developed online around the film’s lead actor since its release, Korola’s piece is an essential counterpoint to the film’s seductive use of film style. Daniel Charchuk approaches Bronson from an opposite tact, examining the way Tom Hardy’s performance undermines British underworld clichés and masculine stereotypes to make murderer Charles Bronson’s life into a carnivalesque theater piece. A thorough study of Refn’s ability to deconstruct genre, in this case the biopic, the piece lays bare the ways Hardy’s camp delivery and exaggerated mannerisms function within the film. Scholar James Rose further demonstrates Refn’s ability to recreate genres from the ground up, contrasting the bloody Valhalla Rising to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. An unlikely pair of films at first glance, Rose reveals a startling amount of symmetry between the journeys of Refn’s nameless “One Eye” and Kubrick’s Dr. David Bowman into their respective new worlds. Offscreen founder and editor in chief, Donato Totaro, delivers the strongest and most enthusiastic show of support for Refn’s unique style of filmmaking in his examination of Fear X as “millennial unreality.” As Fear X was anything but a critical or popular success upon its release, it seems fitting to reappraise the film today in light of both Refn’s success with Drive and the potential backlash to Only God Forgives. Finally, I tackle Refn’s deconstruction of the gangster archetype throughout his Pusher trilogy, examining how what began as a quick, low budget genre film gradually grew in complexity and subtlety as it expanded into a trilogy examining the cycle of poverty and violence in the European underworld. All of these films contain significant points of interest and none of them are easy to stomach so in a year where so many artists seek to please predetermined audiences, it is vital that we examine the work of someone seeking to break out of these boxes, even if it means a few boos along the way. (Sacha Orenstein, guest editor)


  1. Yuan, Jada. Only God Forgives Director Nicolas Winding Refn on Getting Booed at Cannes. Vulture. N.p., 24 May 2013. Web.

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