When you watch as many movies as I do, sometimes you come across something that just blows your mind. When this happens, it’s best to write it down and pray you never see it again.
What the F*** Did I Just Watch?: Only God Forgives
What the F*** Did I Just See?: The Worst Movie of 2013
There was some point between Kristin Scott Thomas’ comparison of the length of her sons’ penises and scenes of an old Thai police officer sing karaoke when I realized that what I saw was exactly what I got. If this was a tale of redemption, then the one thing that received no redemption is the foolish expectation of a plot.
Only God Forgives disguises itself as a story about exacting revenge for someone that doesn’t vengeance, but the director wants you to believe that there is more going on underneath. It’s a story about questioning the work of God and the futility of trying to take him on. Why is this what it means? Because that’s what the director wants you to get that out of his film. I’m not saying this reading isn’t there, but this reading comes off as hollow.
I’m not asking the film to wear its message on its sleeve, but when movies need dissecting in order to fully appreciate them as a work of art, there is usually something stimulating on the surface as well. Take, for example, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film’s deeper meaning could STILL be argued to this very day, but there is actually a story that is complete and engaging that can be appreciated on the surface.
In a way, this is Nicolas Winding Refn’s attempt to make a David Lynch film: the dialogue feels like a bunch of non sequiturs and the film seems more interested in the space between lines than it does with what is actually said. It’s like a jazz fan explaining to you that the joy of listening to freeform jazz is listening to the notes that aren’t being played. Did I mention that I hate jazz?
As I wrote this article, I took time out to watch another 2013 film, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. Comparatively, Upstream Color is about as indecipherable as Only God Forgives, but it packs a depth of character and story that makes it a true pleasure to watch.
In the interest of full disclosure, enough cannot be said about how beautiful the film looks. Shot on location in Bangkok, the film is drenched in color, especially red and every set piece is meticulously designed. If you get nothing else out of the film, you can truly appreciate how gorgeous it can sometimes be. But how much can you rest on those laurels. Sure, having a technically beautiful film is an achievement, but this is not a painting. I can’t help but want something more out of a film than just a series of shots that would make a nice desktop wallpaper.