Only God Forgives (2013) Poster

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A clinical study on perversion
FrostyChud24 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Either Nicholas Winding Refn is a Freudian scholar who has made a didactic film illustrating the nuances of the Oedipus complex, or psychic reality really does have an Oedipal structure. I vote for the latter.

We have Julian, played by Ryan Gosling, who is even emptier than the character he portrayed in Drive. He barely speaks, has no center, and cannot be a man with the woman he loves. In an early scene, we see him sliding his hand up her skirt in a nightclub. He is not just copping a happy feel; trembling, he is approaching the altar of Woman. We then see him walking down a scary hallway. He extends his hand to open a dark door when...SLICE...Chang cuts his arm off. It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to deduce the symbolism of the arm that must be severed when it reaches out. In the next scene, Gosling opens the door in reality and finds...his mother waiting for him on the bed. So, putting the pieces together, when Julian approaches a woman he imagines a door (and is not Woman always a door for Man?). Behind this door in his unconscious hides his castrating, phallic mother. But before he can open this door, a man with a knife appears and castrates him. Why? Castration sucks...but it is not as bad as what is behind that door in Julian's unconscious (psychosis).

Now, it happens that for perverse subjects like Julian (and, I am guessing, the director), the unconscious representation at the heart of their suffering is that of the phallic mother. Kristin Scott Thomas plays an excellent phallic mother here: obscene, castrating, who goes as far as to belittle Julian's manhood in front of his girlfriend.

Notice too that we never find out if Julian's girlfriend is a woman or a ladyboy. This confusion is alluded to in the opening scenes with Billy at the brothel and is further confirmed by the way in which Refn films Mai slowly lifting her skirt to show a breathless Julian whatever it is he/she has under there. Like all perverse subjects, Julian is haunted by the fantasy of the maternal phallus. Hence the popularity of ladyboy prostitutes in Thailand: they bring to life, in a non-threatening form, a powerful and archaic unconscious fantasy. What else but the hidden maternal phallus could Julian be looking for when he cuts open the stomach of his dead mother and reaches in? What Julian lacks is an unconscious representation of the womb, one that he tries here to generate. For the perverse subject, femininity is intolerable because in his unconscious, women are nothing but castrated men. He cannot understand that the essence of femininity is infinite interiority. Notice too how Refn's dojo is a surreal labyrinth: Julian has no representation for the labyrinth of femininity because he is stuck INSIDE the labyrinth of his mother's body.

The clinic shows us that nothing destroys a son's sexuality like a phallic, castrating mother. For Julian to save some shred of masculinity, he needs a father strong enough to castrate his mother. Enter Chang, who must be considered a pure fantasy. Here is a man strong enough, phallic enough, silent enough (he doesn't even speak English) finally to defeat the Gorgon and extract the phallus from her dead body. Once amputated, the hidden maternal phallus becomes the visible paternal phallus (=Chang's knife), one that is not attached to the body but can be symbolically passed from father to son. This is how the Oedipus complex "normally" operates. The perverse subject, however, has not accomplished this step. He has no phallus, no symbolic masculinity. He is still stuck in his mother's body, and as such he does not have the right to any sort of accomplished manhood. Hence the importance of cutting, of severing, of dismemberment for the perverse subject: he dreams of the paternal knife that would finally separate him from Mother and allow him to exist as his own man. Notice too that Julian's "final castration" takes place outside, in an empty field: through this paternal intervention, he is extracted from mother's body.

Of course, the super-phallic, super-castrating father that the perverse subject needs to accomplish this amputation is a formidable figure in his own right, one who is hardly better than the phallic mother in a certain sense. However, his violence is essentially just and limited by the Law, whereas the violence of the maternal superego knows no limits.

Julian's fight with Chang, in which he gets beaten up terribly, is an illustration of the logic of masochism: submit to the father in order that the father might finally castrate the phallic mother.

"Only God Forgives" is the depressing story of a perverse subject's difficult (impossible?) struggle to detach himself from an obscene, oppressive maternal superego. He doesn't really succeed. At the end, the disappearance of Julian's mother his simply led to the masochistic fetishization of Chang. The movie's last scene is ambiguous. Does it show us that Julian cannot see Chang as a man he might one day equal, a man whose phallus he might one day possess, but as an omnipotent God on stage? Or does it show us Julian's deep love and gratitude towards the lawman powerful enough to liberate him?

The slow pacing and static shots seem gratuitous at first, but as the movie picks up steam, we begin to understand their raison d'etre: Julian lives in a dead world in which nothing can move or change because everything is paralyzed by his mother. I almost walked out after twenty minutes, but I'm glad I stayed - there are some powerful archetypal figures here. The radical otherness of Chang illustrates well the secret of paternity: in our unconscious, our fathers are all Changs. The movie is worth seeing for this character alone.
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An atmospheric tale of revenge, and not the sequel for Drive
Some random dude24 May 2013
Critics have gone way too hard on this movie. Lots of violent, strange et slow films have been presented at the Cannes film festival since its creation but yet every time a film pushes the boundaries of violence while keeping its own style, most critics go mad and sometimes shout at the screening, even leaving the theater before the end and calling it "outrageous". This film, along with "Anti-Christ" is a perfect example of the type of scandals that go on at Cannes for quite stupid reasons.

First of all, forget about Drive. If you know Nicolas Winding Refn's style and like it then you'll enjoy this movie but if you've only seen Drive and believe this is going to be in the same style (because of the same actor, similar cinematography, same musical style...) believe me you'll be disappointed. The trailer might give this impression, but this film is very different. The director had already made other movies just like this, but they did not encounter a really large audience. His works were mostly known by cinephiles, artsy people and intellectuals interested in film analysis (in a general way of course). Drive was his first really big success and also his first film taking place in America, starring a worldwide known star (Gosling) and going deep into its message while keeping a more specific style than his other films.

Here Refn feels a lot more philosophical, and comes back to his original style in directing films such as Valhalla Rising : great visuals, slow-pasted action, scenes that seem a bit detached from one-another, deep character development, little dialogue, extreme violence mixed with soft and/or trance-electro music... all of which are here to deal with philosophical, deep, hard subjects like revenge, good and bad, mother/son relationship etc...

When it comes to the acting Gosling does not disappoints however this time Refn wanted to do the opposite that he did in Drive : showing the weakness of his character. Also, even though he does pull-off a very convincing performance, Kristin Scott Thomas is surprisingly captivating and gives her character a much more "real" dimension than it could have been (like it is most of the time, when a woman is supposed to play a drug-lord badass). But saving the best for the end, Vithaya Pansringarm, an actor totally unknown to me until know, plays wonderfully his role as the mystical bad guy, and really did surprise me by the quality of his acting. He completely understood the movie's atmosphere and makes his character feel mysterious and fascinating.

To sum-up this is a very atmospheric, deep movie with great actors/actresses and dealing with difficult and serious themes, with some philosophical analysis possible, but definitely not in the same style as Drive, even though it has some similarities with it.
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People are missing the point
sephev26 July 2013
It's a shame that people seem to be missing the point behind this film. However, on one's first sitting, it's easily done - Refn's style and pace may fool you into thinking this is a dull, slow film. The long, seemingly unending shots of actors staring into the distance may make you question Mat Newman's (the editor) talent. But what you really need to do is to look deeper into the film, because behind the extreme violence, the beautiful cinematography & production design and questionable reality, there is an interesting message. That message really depends on how you interpret the film, and differentiates from person to person.

For instance, Vithaya Pansringarm's character can be perceived in a variety of ways - a silent angel out to balance the injustices of his city, a delusional man who thinks of himself as God, or a vengeful cop who is simply out to do his job. Ryan Gosling's Julian can be seen as a confused soul who is out to avenge someone he clearly despised, someone who is bullied into action by his persuasive mother. Kristen Scott Thomas's excellent portrayal of Crystal, Julian's thoroughly unpleasant mother, acts as a wedge between the two of them. And the motives of each of these characters are questionable throughout.

It's certain that Refn's ninth feature film is not a simple crime drama as you might have expected. Its twists and turns will almost certainly surprise you, and it will linger on your mind long after the credits roll. It makes you question what was real and what was not in a way I've never seen in cinema before. And it really is a shame that a lot of people seem to completely miss the brilliance and genius behind it.
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Slow, so slow
Havgar24 May 2013
If you've seen Drive, then you should know that this movie is nothing like it, except perhaps in the fact that they are both beautifully shot. Drive had a pretty brisk pace, good dialogue, a plot that went somewhere, and a likable character.

Only God Forgives had none of that. This is a movie which moves along at a snail's pace, and even at a runtime of 90 minutes, it feels like many hours go by before even a single thing happens. Even the characters move and turn slowly.

The plot, such as it is, you would probably find worth watching, but Nicolas Winding Refn peppers it with pseudo-dream sequences and many pointless scenes that drag on for ever, so that the plot becomes hard to stay interested in.

Now, some things you might care about.

The acting. Ryan Gosling, of whom I was a fan in his earlier days, plays the same character from Drive, except that here he is indeed even more emotionless. He speaks about 5 lines during the whole movie, and has fewer different facial expressions. Kristin Scott Thomas is very good, although she feels underused. She is definitely the strong point of this movie. Vithaya Pansringarm, who plays a prominent role in the movie, is as expressionless as Gosling, although he is somewhat better, in my opinion.

Action scenes do exist, and they do resemble those from Drive, in that they are very matter-of-factly and visceral. Here, Winding Refn has really indulged in a lot of gratuitous gore, although overall, I found the action scenes quite entertaining. One particular one showcases Byron Gibson's acting talents, and it is particularly (and hilariously) cringe-worthy.

All the characters in this movie are unlikable. It is extremely difficult to get yourself to care for any of them, including Gosling's, who is arguably the protagonist here.

Aside from Scott Thomas' acting, the only other redeeming quality of this film is the excellent way in which most scenes are set up and shot. The sets, the camera movement, the placement of the actors, all of these make up for some truly gorgeous shots.

Overall, sad as I am to say it, I cannot recommend seeing Only God Forgives.
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Depending on what you look for in a film you could either consider to be an artwork or a let down
dme3-624-95696024 May 2013
I went into the movie theater looking forward to this film. Expecting something along the likes of Drive, which was a great cinematic experience in my opinion, I got to see something which had similarities in execution and style but turned out to be a very different movie from the latter.

Without saying too much I will say that this will be one of the weirdest movie experiences you will ever get. It has the same type of artwork that made Drive such a great accomplishment but it takes it a little further. This is done to a point where you can either choose to relate to its ruthlessness and brutality ( it is an extremely violent film) or discard it for it. The setting and scenes are played out beautifully but the pacing feels off as it builds up really slow and never gains pace throughout the showing. At times you feel like you are witnessing scenes from a wonderfully shot masterpiece, yet the next moment it can be as if these scenes add up to nothing substantial. To me it feels as if the director has been overly ambitious and at particular moments he managed to make it work but overall it doesn't hit home. It tries so hard to be memorable and refreshing that at times it turns into a parody of itself.

This being said I still enjoyed it for what it was and though the brutality and violence won't be for anyone to be appreciated ( it gets very raunchy)it's an experience I'm glad I did not miss out on. Some other people in the theater where less forgiving ( no pun intended) and left it running for the exit. It's not as accessible as you would want it to be, and it's not as great as it feels it could have been but if you want to watch a film you won't be able to wrap your head around entirely for the next few days I'd say: give it a shot. You might find it worth your while. I certainly found it to be so. A decent piece of artwork or a let down? Depending on what you look for in a film you can only consider it to be one or the other.
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Lynchian Bangkok
toonunit20 July 2013
Those giving this movie 1/10 are saying far more about their own absolute ignorance of film and extreme immaturity than they are about this movie. I don't expect everyone to like this film - it is certainly not for fans of Hollywood blockbusters and those who start their reviews with statements similar to 'I went to see this movie because I like Ryan Gosling/Kristin Scott Thomas' render all further comments null and void - their opinions are simply worthless and cannot be taken seriously.

The cinematography is excellent and the acting superb. Those complaining of Gosling's lack of animation are completely missing the point that his character is empty and completely subjugated beneath the force of his mother. This movie is full of symbolism, psychology and philosophy and every shot and sequence masterfully executes the portrayal and exploration of these themes. Distinct allusions to David Lynch are apparent but these do not come off as derivative but rather as homage.

If you like Hollywood blockbusters or Rom-Coms stay away from this movie and don't bother deriding this movie due to your own lack of mature and critical thinking. On the other hand, if you appreciate excellent cinematography and exploring deeper themes of the unconscious, however dark they may be, do not be put off by the extremism of those giving this movie 1/10 and go and decide for yourself.
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Hope God Forgives Director,Cast & Writers
merylmatt4 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There are only 2 reasons I watched this film until the end. To see if the ending was as bad as the rest of the movie (it's worse, if possible) and to review the whole movie fairly.

Wooden acting, lousy script writing. Predictable and tired plot. No suspense.

Ryan Gosling runs a fight club which is really a front for drug operation. Possible spoilers: His brother gets killed, Ryan does not avenge the death and mommy flies in from the states to set things right. Only she doesn't. It gets worse and worse and finally it ends.

Nothing redeeming about this one.
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Fascinating ! - A masterpiece
MikeHenSeven10 June 2013
Don't expect to see Drive's sequel, it would make no sense ! If you don't know Refn's movie you've got to know 3 important things : - He makes contemplative movies. With a lot of silence and a minimalist screenplay. - He said "Art is an act of violence" so don't expect to see a peaceful movie. - Drive is the least representative movie of his style.

You'll need to create yourself a part of the story because it's a movie between reality and nightmare. It's a philosophical and metaphysical movie. A true experimental & artistic movie.

This movie is fascinating ! Cinemathography is beautifully worked, use of the red light is perfect, framing also. Production design and the places make us perfectly return in the dark side of the film. We remain completely speechless front of the pictures that are beautiful, surprising and deeply disturbing. Violence becomes poetry.

The story speaks about the male impotence, revenge is put on side, there is no real hero. Just the story of a lost man who seeks his way, other side a cop who thinks he is God. It's to the spectator to find the morals of the story.

The music (electro-pop) and Vithaya's interpretations are in total agreement with the progression of the story and the pictures.

The actors succeed in transmitting the feelings and impressions of the characters with simple glances.

We leave the room completely disturbed, while being posed full with questions, trying to assimilate all the asked questions by the artist, but completely fascinated and excited !

It is simple either one loves, or one hates this film. I loved it !

Refn signs one of his best movies, he assumes completely his style and (in my opinion) proposes to us a real masterpiece.
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Quite possibly the most tedious revenge movie ever made.
BA_Harrison1 June 2014
Drive, the previous movie from director Nicholas Winding Refn and actor Ryan Gosling, utilised a deliberate and rather stilted style that not only resulted in a unique air of cool but which also had the effect of making the movie's explosive scenes of violence more impactful. In Only God Forgives, Refn and Gosling repeat this sparing, slow-burn technique, but take it to the nth degree; this time around the effect is to completely bore the crap out of the viewer.

Quite simply, Only God forgives has got to be one of the most excruciating exercises in cinema it has ever been my misfortune to witness. Every pan, track or zoom is agonisingly drawn out, the camera movement often being almost imperceptible. A good percentage of scenes comprise of corridors, or people not moving, or people moving very slowly, or karaoke performances (slow songs, of course). Virtually every scene is lit in either red or blue, which gets extremely irritating. Gosling's brooding expression remains the same throughout the entire film. Conversations take an age to unfold. Minutes seem like hours. Hours seem like days. Time eventually loses all meaning.

Even the film's few scenes of brutal violence are shot in such a way as to render them totally boring.

Art-house types will love the film (or at least pretend to), finding hidden meaning and symbolism in its languorous plot and mind-bogglingly dull execution, but most right-minded people will quite rightly dismiss this for the utter garbage that it is.
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If you love cinema, you'll love this - 8/10
yaldish31 May 2013
I do understand why people hate it, that also means that I understand why people love it because I am one of them.

This movie was shot by cinematographer Larry Smith who also worked with Kubrick on 'Eyes wide shut', he made an extraordinary job shooting this picture because it was mesmerizing and beautiful to watch from the beginning to the end. It was also an amazing movie experience, it's one of those movies that you just give yourself over to. If you are a fan of movies and a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn then I think you will absolutely love this.

I read that a lot of people are complaining about this movie being thin on story and whatnot, well, let me put it like this; if Refn wanted a "story" he would give it a "story". He doesn't have anything to prove on that point because he already showed us that he can do it if he wants to, and I think once you let go of that then it will be a lot more easier to enjoy and experience this movie because it is a movie that is based on ideas which is clearly what Nicolas Winding Refn is focusing on rather than having a moving plot or story.

The atmosphere in this movie was really something, it was almost as if you were a part of it thanks to this movie being very slow paced, and that's why I've always been a big fan of slow-paced movies. "Chang", who is "God", was so coldblooded that even I as a viewer felt that it will be impossible for "Julian" to actually try to kill him - and then that last fighting sequence came. All the actors did a very good job and gave convincing performances, meaning that they didn't have to do more than what was already in the film. And I loved the fact that our protagonist got beaten down to a point where we couldn't see his normal face, and I liked the relationship that Julian (Ryan Gosling) and Crystal had (Kristen Thomas) because I could feel that strange mother-to-son love type of relationship even though it was very tense, that probably has to do with good chemistry between the two actors. This movie also had very good soundtracks which added another great layer to it. I guess if David Lynch were to make an extremely violent movie, I think it would look something like this, there were indeed some Lynch-moments in there and some Kubrick shots which I absolutely loved. As much as this movie made me cringe I could not stop enjoying it, it was all in a positive way. I think Refn at one point called this a Thai-western about a man who is fighting against god, and I couldn't stop thinking about that whilst I was watching it because that's exactly what it is.

People can trash this movie all they want, we even had two people walking out of the theater. But the fact that some critics gave it a 100/100 and others gave it below 50/100 should tell you a lot. But at the end of the day, I think if you really want to know what you think of this film, you will have to go and see it for yourself.
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