The Shape of You: The Neon Geometry of Nicolas Winding Refn

Balancing chaos with order.
By  · Published on August 9th, 2017

Balancing chaos with order.

Though the narrative qualities of his films can perhaps best be described as “chaotic,” the direction of Nicolas Winding Refn is anything but. Refn might be dealing with unrestrained subjects and characters, but there is a rigid geometric order to practically every frame he’s shot since he started making English-language features. No doubt this is owed to his mentorship and close friendship with fellow director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose Holy Mountain, for example, is visually like a geometry mid-term conceived on LSD.

In Drive, Bronson, The Neon Demon, Only God Forgives, Valhalla Rising, and Fear X, Refn employs a very structured sense of framing, often aligning characters in the center of the frame, though not the center of themselves, and incorporating rectangles, triangles, ovals, circles, and squares for the purpose of establishing a sensible background for the beautiful, fantastical, and at times nonsensical interactions between characters.

For example, as I noted in this video essayRefn’s The Neon Demon is built upon triangular images that represent change, passage, growth, envy, and aggression. The shape is among the first and last things we see in the film, and in between there are dozens of triangular manifestations, from the glaringly obvious to the insidiously subtle.

In the following supercut from Aletranco, clips from the above-mentioned films have been selected for their geometric qualities and assembled to illustrate the pervasive manipulation of geometry in the director’s work, and how it helps transform his films into puzzles with no locking, and thus interchangeable, pieces.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist