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The Neon Demon (2016) does seem to support a belief that contemporary women and young females identify their role as one to be looked at my males and everyone else around them. Director Nicolas Winding Refn fashioned together a shocking depiction of the modelling industry and even portrays these supposed truths in such a way that almost deems offensive to some viewers.
Our protagonist Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the mere age of sixteen, and is soon sought after because of her young age and obvious good looks. This avant-garde film doesn’t just focus on the subjects of the female body and appearance, it also brings emphasis to the importance of youth in the modelling environment. Jesse is new to the bright, pulsing environment of Los Angeles and is straight away forced into the acquaintance of fellow older models who are quick to highlight their own flaws and interrogate her in regards to her natural beauty. In fact, these other models are abundantly jealous of both her looks and her youth, which is an important aspect in their career paths and necessary to get work in their field.
The film has strong prominence over female roles and presence, simply overcasting the males that appear rather infrequently in the duration; it’s all about the women. The history of males in this form of work does seem to highlight some reports of misconduct during shoots with female models. Even during the scene depicting Jesse’s first shoot with photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington), there are hints towards some form of intended sexual abuse. Jack’s actions and orders for Jesse to take off her clothes without prior warning might encourage viewers to expect scenes of exploitation, yet this photographer alternatively turns out the lights and covers the model’s body in golden paint: embodying her beauty and prepping her for glory.
The lack of male roles and the unexpected actions of the few that are included does seem to contradict the points that may highlight a masculine superiority over females and their bodies. In this example, the director didn’t want to focus on the successful male photographer but instead instead focus on the women themselves and surprise the audience with a same-sex advancement later on in the film. Jesse’s first friend in the big new city was make-up artist Ruby (Jenna Malone) who, during their first meeting, breaks the ice by questioning: “Am I staring?”, implying her interest in Jesse’s form from the beginning. She makes a move on the teen girl in an attempt to achieve her own personal quest for acceptance and the desire to be physically intimate with another body. The sequence that follows Ruby’s thwarted attempts is one that is consistently highlighted as one of the most shocking and talked about scenes in a feature such as this. In a despairingly venture, following her rejection, Ruby then progresses to perform an act of necrophilia on one of the bodies at the morgue she works at part-time.
The Youth of Today
Jesse is fairly innocent, referred to as a ‘deer in headlights’ during the first hour or so. From the get go she stands out from the crowd of equally skinny young women, with agencies and fashion designers lusting after her because of her appearance. This quickly gets her into issues with other models who envy her natural beauty: these girls would do anything to be getting the same amount of attention that Jesse receives in such a short amount of time. This can highlight that the real threat in the modelling world is in fact, women. The three women that are frequently involved with Jesse all have a desire for beauty in some way and even perform somewhat controversial actions in an endeavour to achieve this, which involves murder and eventually devouring their rival in a very literal sense.
It’s essentially a declaration to objectification of young women and the predatory dangers that are existent in an environment as brutal and overcritical as the modelling world. Granted, this type of setting is one of the extreme examples of female ridicule and severities, but the spotlight that The Neon Demon portrays does demonstrate the harsh realities that exist in contemporary media.