The Neon Demon (2016) Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Scene: 00:01:41 - 00:03:01)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s trilogy of sorts – Drive (2011), Only God Forgives (2013), and The Neon Demon (2016) – have taken his career into very interesting places.

We’ve previously written about the use of space in his films, including the elevator in Drive which serves as a space for transformation for its protagonist, as well as the boxing gym in Only God Forgives, where two characters engage in a fist fight. In both sequences, it’s the choreography of the actors and the staging of bodies that the filmmaker is most interested in.                     

Interiors spoke with Nicolas Winding Refn about the influence of architecture on his films and his use of cinematic space.


“I love the idea of creating, and whether it’s a drawing or a building, it’s the act of creativity that I very much like and enjoy. I love the sense of space, how you define the space and the architecture of both the structure of the film, like the structure of a building, and then the individual rooms. I love the idea of transformation and using space to transform in.”

In his mind, it’s the individual filmmaker’s approach to the space itself that results in a unique representation of that world. “I think it’s hard being original in anything. I find it more interesting looking at it from a perspective. If you wake up every morning with the agenda of purely creating based on your instincts then whatever space you’re in that may have been photographed or seen a thousand times will always become different because you will have singularity. So, originality is not really a truthful existence. It’s more of a definition of an abstraction, but what’s more pure is singularity and then forcing yourself to look at surroundings in a different way.”

This is best evidenced in Drive, a film shot entirely in Los Angeles, but was unique to Nicolas Winding Refn because of his unusual relationship with the city and the fact that he was so unfamiliar with cars. “I don’t have a driver’s license, I have no interest in cars, but I’m very good at shooting curves. I’m very good at photographing cars like a pin-up magazine. The idea of LA being a dark fairytale landscape. I don’t live in LA. The minute you are a stranger in a strange land, you will always look at it in a different way, no matter what. That’s one of the advantages of always moving from space to space with whatever you make.” This approach is also true for Only God Forgives, filmed in Bangkok, which he calls “an alien country” with a “science fiction surrounding” for someone from the West.

The Neon Demon, however, sees him relocating back to Los Angeles, where he explores the mythology of Hollywood. The opening sequence of the film plays with audience’s expectations. The film opens on close-up of Jesse (Elle Fanning), her face covered in blood, as she lays still on a couch with her eyes open. Who is this young girl? Is she alive or dead? Where are we? 


“The idea is that you would start on a close-up that was an abstraction because there was no sense or space around it, so that automatically becomes the focus point.” The camera slowly pulls away and reveals more of the space as the room begins to define the setting. “The space, the use of the space, is telling the story.” In this sense, Nicolas Winding Refn is interested in how space can tell the story and how architecture has an impact of context.

Where does Nicolas Winding Refn go from here? “The space that technology has created is very intriguing to me. It’s endless compared to where we were just a hundred years ago.”

© 2016 Interiors (Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian)