ONLY GOD FORGIVES: A REVIEW

The other amazing film releasing today that gets reviewed by Salty Kernel, Nick Stanbrook, is ONLY GOD FORGIVES, a film that has been drowning in controversy. It was the film of the year, the winner at the Sydney Film Festival and then an uproar commenced, WHY? Between critics and reviewers worldwide none have been so polarised on a film, OK – maybe with Gatsby, but you either love or hate this film, I actually think the Kernels will have some of their own controversy – I know Kernel Andrew saw it at the SFF and he was not a fan – good to see we got Nick to review it – he is a huge fan – see all his thoughts below in what is easily Nick’s finest review – beautifully written. To me it reminds me of Funny Games (original and remake), same with Snowtown – films I loathed to the point of feeling sick and nearly walking out – hated them both – but scored them both perfect 5s for the emotion they got out of me and the audience. 

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

I need to say a few things before I start.

I have been struggling with writing this review. I have been stuck trying to figure out where this film fits; in the world of film, in the average person’s world, in my world.

I don’t want this review to turn into a pretentious rant or a film theory essay, I want to try and explain why I think this film is brilliant without giving away too much of the experience.  I am hopefully going to touch on some ideas along the way. Lets just start and we will get to the big words towards the end.

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

The first thing you will notice about Only God Forgives, is the colour red and a stripped back rumble of bass. These two distinct factors should help to put you in the right mindset for this film. The red is a neon wash that bathes most of the scenes, it has a particular feel to it, it doesn’t sit quite right with you. It feels kind of dirty or seedy, but subtly. The rumbling bass is also something that doesn’t quite sit right. At first you won’t really notice it, but as it continues, it becomes harder to listen to, it becomes harsh and off putting. This definitely sets you up for the rest of the film. You will feel uncomfortable and uneasy, you will cherish the quite moments, the black between scenes.

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Only God Forgives revolves around Julian, played by Ryan Gosling. He is an American living in Bangkok, running a fight gym.  The plot of the film, follows Julian as he seeks revenge for the death of his brother, who has been killed after brutally murdering a prostitute. A mysterious ex-cop figure becomes involved in the case, Chang. Played brilliantly by Vithaya Pansringarm.

One big criticism of this film is that it lacks plot. I agree that there is minimal plot. However this is not a bad thing and this definitely does not mean that this film lacks depth. The plot is merely the events that transpire. Plot is used here as one of many ways to convey the key themes.

For me the key theme explored in Only God Forgives, is violence. This where I found real depth in this film. It wasn’t purely style, it was actually saying something. There are two sides to this story, brutal violence as a way of life, vs brutal violence as a means of enforcing justice.

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Julian’s family is encompassed by violence. As we meet the different members of the family and the people associated with it, we experience this brutality. Kristin Scott Thomas plays the swearing mother. The way she talks is jarring and intense. Her brutality is not from acts of physical violence, but by the way she speaks, and treats others, particularly Julian. Kristin Scott Thomas does and amazing job of portraying this frankly vile women. She is crass and vulgar without being ridiculous.

Chang represents the other side of violence. He utilises violence to bring justice. He isn’t a brutal person, he just has the ability to be incredibly violent. He is less of a person and more of a force. Chang is always the centre of attention, he walks in a premeditated nearly dance-like way. He talks in vague poetic sentences. When he enters frame the rumble of bass returns, a gong sounds and you recognise his significance. He is different to Julian’s family and associates, because he doesn’t indulge in violent behavior, he isn’t a brutal person. This is highlighted in the karaoke scenes. These scenes pop up a few times, somewhat disjointed from the main story-line. At first I thought it was silly and laughable, but I ended up really appreciating these scenes, they fit the character of Chang. A very good way of showing his character and how he isn’t a brutal violent person.

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Julian himself is trying to transition from this brutality. Scattered throughout the film, are sequences of Julian walking through a dark corridor extending his hands and either clenching or unclenching his fist. In one particular instance Chang appears and cuts off Julian’s hands. These dream sequences add to the exploration of the key theme, violence. You can decipher the metaphor there for yourself, if you think there is any.

The use of violence as a whole, is off putting. I wouldn’t say the experience was enjoyable, but necessary. One scene was so brutal I was considering walking out. The build up to it, the sound, the colour, everything built to make this scene feel disgusting, to feel nearly unwatchable. This is a violent film, but it isn’t stupid violence, or violent just for the sake of it. It is for a purpose, it is used to convey part of the story. Some people will find this violence unwatchable, and that comes down to personal taste.

 

 

Only God Forgives - Review on Salty Popcorn
Only God Forgives – Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Nicolas Winding Refn, had a story he wanted to tell, he wanted to explore some existential themes, and I believe he has done a great job of that. He has crafted a very specific type of film, obviously not a crowd pleaser, but it demands a reaction.

I really enjoyed this film, enjoyed probably isn’t the right word, I really appreciate this film, ok to be honest, I loved it. It was hard to watch, sickening at points, but I loved it. It pushed me nearly to the edge of what I can bare, but I felt like I understood why. I felt like I knew what the film was trying to say, what it was really about.

I want to acknowledge that many people will disagree with me. I understand why this film is either receiving 5 stars or none (then why did you give it 4.5 stars 🙂 – Ed…JK). It is polarizing, and that’s a good thing. Not every film, should be marketed to everyone, not every film should have the aim of pleasing everyone who watches it. I won’t think any less of you if you hate this film, and I would hope that you won’t think any less of me for loving this film. In the end it comes down to taste. Without flogging the film is art sentiment, I need to say this, art doesn’t exist to please, it exists to emote.

Not for everyone, not perfect, but an amazing story told in an incredible way.

 

4 and a Half Pops