The cinema of Nicolas Winding Refn is a mirror, if not to the majority of us as individuals, then to western society as a whole and its obsessions: wealth, strength, power, beauty, renown, respect, security, autonomy. Refn’s films reflect these desires while simultaneously distorting them, hitting them at just the right angle to show all the flaws and cracks one can fall into between these realms and the way they can close up around you, acquiring you instead of you acquiring them.
Think about it: DRIVE reflects a need for change, to evolve past one’s circumstances, but in trying to do so the Driver finds himself mired deeper in his ways because they are the only ways he knows – when he looks in his rearview mirror, his eyes are always there; then there’s ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which reflects, among other things, our need to fit into a family unit, but in a family you serve a different purpose to different people and if these purposes ultimately serve others rather than yourself, you can end up fractured – as though seeing yourself reflected in several mirrors at once; and in THE NEON DEMON our cultural obsession with becoming cultural obsessions is what the director reflects through Jesse, the naïve young girl who comes to L.A. with dreams of fame and fortune only to find it’s her reflection the industry wants, not her substance but her surface.
In each of these films and most his others, Refn has incorporated mirrors in regards to his characters to illustrate the dichotomy between what they want and what they are, and how they see themselves versus how the world sees them. Thing is, you can’t always tell which is which, which is the reflection and which is the reality, and it’s in these murky areas that the cinema of NWR is its most powerful, its most captivating, and its most brilliant.
In his latest video, Jacob T. Swinney has collected mirror scenes from the films of Refn and compiled them into a succinct summation of the vanity and introspection that mingle in the director’s work.
Refn Reflections from Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo.