Assigning Meaning to Color in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Bronson’

Let’s get psychological.
By  · Published on June 14th, 2017

Let’s get psychological.

You’ve no doubt noticed that the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, particularly his more recent, English-language efforts, have a very vibrant and unique color palette, and likely you know this is because Refn has a specific type of colorblindness that prevents him from being able to see midtones, which are the subtler shades between the bright and the shadowy. In order to literally see his films, then, the director has to wash them in either of these extremes, often times combining them within the same frame. The results are cinematic worlds drenched in throbbing neon and living darkness that lend themselves to a feverish, hallucinatory atmosphere.

But Refn’s use of color is more than practical and atmospheric, it’s downright manipulative, especially from a psychological perspective. Drive is a movie of golds and greens, symbolizing stalwartness and perennial dedication to survival; Only God Forgives is saturated in pink-purple neon, a representation of loyalty and love, both overdone to blinding proportions; The Neon Demon frequently lights Jesse in cool, ethereal blues that make her seem inhuman, ghost-like, which is both foreboding and foreshadowing; and Bronson, well, that’s what we have the following video from Sean Pettis’ Cinema Psychobabble for.

In just over six minutes Pettis walks us through Refn’s most non-linear film to date, pointing out and explaining the subtle and not-so-subtle cues of color the director has used to both reflect psychological conditions of the narrative and trigger psychological reactions in the audience. When it comes to Refn, there is indeed substance to what many only think of as style, and here Pettis has separated the two effectively and expertly.

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