About halfway through The Neon Demon, I realized, “Oh, this is a comedy.” The audience had been chuckling throughout, and I wasn’t sure if those moments were meant to be funny, but after a certain point, I thought, “This has to be intentional.” It hit me during the scene when Jesse (Elle Fanning – innocent, affectless) and the cabal of models (Jena Malone – fierce; Bella Heathcote – piercing eyes, affectless; Abbey Lee – severely angled, affectless) are at a bar with a designer (Alessandro Nivola). The entire movie’s dialogue is so devoid of personality and context, but the bar scene is where it is really heightened into Waiting for Godot-worthy absurdism. Nivola pokes at the core of the statements that aim for profundity and mean nothing. I don’t know if Nicolas Winding Refn intended to make a parody of an overly stylized art film, but that is what he did.
Like any good parody, The Neon Demon intuitively understands the genre it takes aim at. But it actually comes at it a bit sideways. The plot (young ingénue is eaten alive by a performance industry) is not so much the target of lampooning as much as it is the canvas draped in self-evident pretentiousness. We’ve seen this story before – All About Eve, Showgirls, Black Swan, etc. – but never this deconstructed. If you cannot jive to The Neon Demon’s wavelength completely, fear not, as its closest antecedent is Suspiria. Just like that landmark giallo, the plot is opaque, but the aesthetics (hypnotic score, violently vibrant colors) are undeniable. See this one on the big screen, and be agog.
I give The Neon Demon 8 Examples of Symbolic Cannibalism out of 9 Implied Promises of Real Cannibalism.