A symbol of change in a film that’s all about it. Spoilers abound.
The triangle is a remarkably versatile symbol. It can stand for masculine and feminine energies, for trinities of various religious, cultural, and spiritual origins, for harmonies of time, of mind and body, of emotion, and for balance between the world in which we live and the world we make with our personas.
However, one of the more prominent uses of the triangle as a symbol can be traced to the Greeks, who chose the shape as the sign for the fourth letter of their alphabet, Delta, which was also the word assigned to the triangular confluence where rivers empty into the sea, thus making it representative of change. The physical design of the triangle brings to mind a doorway, a nexus through which we pass and emerge altered on the other side. Given these connotations, it makes perfect sense that writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn would chose the triangle as a recurring visual motif in The Neon Demon, because that film is all about change.
Throughout the film Refn employs triangles both obvious and abstract to represent the accelerating metamorphosis of Jesse (Elle Fanning) from a wide-eyed, naïve, and vulnerable woman-child into a thicker-skinned, more worldly-wise, and more cruelly-self-assured creature. Like an insect going into chrysalis Jesse enters a world where beauty is the only currency and immediately allows herself to be wrapped tight in a cocoon of its trappings only to emerge as a fully-formed object of desire at a fashion show which Refn depicts wordlessly and with more triangular imagery than the rest of the film’s scenes combined. Throughout her evolution Jesse forms a triangle many times with the lithe limbs of her own body – including the first and last time we see her – and with her long, blonde hair cascading onto her slender shoulders she appears herself softly triangular.
But Jesse isn’t the only character for whom this shape is a symbol. The coven of Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah (Jena Malone, Bella Heathcoate, and Abbey Lee Kershaw, respectively) – themselves three linked sides of the same fiercely exclusive social structure – are also seen in triangular contexts, especially after the film’s gory climax, in which their consumption of Jesse, which they had hoped would be a catalyst for change in their physicalities and thus fortunes, is for at least one of them instead an unwelcome change that culminates with a triangular shard being used for suicidal purposes.
In the following montage, I’ve compiled the triangular imagery from The Neon Demon to reveal both its prevalence and its role in framing the evolution/devolution of Jesse and those who would build themselves on her broken back. What such imagery proves is that when it comes to The Neon Demon change is constant, for better and worse.
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