November 2, 2016

Watch: How Nicolas Winding Refn Uses Reflections to Make Us See

This video essay shows how the visually arresting director gleans meaning from reflections. 

In movies, the mirror shot can be a trope. More often that not, it's used because it looks cool, rather than because it imbues any narrative significance.

There are occasions, though, when films use mirror shots effectively; in these instances, it's incumbent upon filmmakers to understand why the device works. A new video essay from Jacob T. Swinney shows us how Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn employs the mirror shot to its fullest narrative extent:

Of Refn's The Neon Demon, Swinney writes that Jessie's "bombardment by mirrors and reflections" is a prime signifier "of the young model's decent into her superficial world." That might seem a little obvious, until one reflects on just how intensely purposeful the film is in its pursuit of narcissism.

The mirror, for all its ability to show us ourselves, also presents us with a false image.

In fact, the myth of Narcissus was very much on Winding Refn's mind. Natasha Braier, the film's cinematographer, reflected on this: "...to reflect Elle Fanning’s climactic narcissistic moment...we did an abstract representation of going to the pond and looking at her reflection in the triangle. That’s when she’s going to transform into red and go from the Alice In Wonderland girl to the empowered beauty queen. It’s very subtle; it’s done with just light and mirrors...it was a minimalist realization of the Narcissus story."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7rZfavYsog&ab_channel=PaesitoPaez

In DriveRefn also heavily employs the mirror shot, though to a different end. Ryan Gosling's character frequently views himself in reflections—rearview mirrors, of course, but his image is also seen in the reflection of glass doors and other surfaces. Refn did this to show us that Gosling's character is "constantly burdened by his own reflection." He's trying to be something other than he is, which is a cipher; it's no coincidence that a mask plays so heavy a role in the film, or that the character works as a stuntman. (Refn's use of mirrors has inspired a great deal of interesting commentary, including this theory, which posits that the mirrors in Drive are an homage to Kubrick's mirror systems.)

As humans, we are endlessly fascinated by mirrors. There are psychoanalytic theories on the significance of the mirror to our development. Yet the mirror, for all its ability to show us ourselves, also presents us with a "false image." (This is the reason you hate the way you look in photographs, by the way.) Mirrors present us with a view of ourselves not as we actually appear, but as we think we do. And people consistently prefer the image they see in the mirror, even if that image isn't "real."      

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6 Comments

Well in psychoanalysis, Lacan told about the stage of the mirror as the one when a person discovers one's external appearance but cannot yet process that it is the same person as the viewer, and those who have trouble or only do accept that other as themselves after a long time (as "everybody-is-a-projection-in-my-world/robot-except-me" people) have split understanding of themselves.
The self is a mental image which one has to accept both good and bad, weaknesses and forte in order to confront the world without denying it, by starting to accept oneself.
In Refn's films, mirror indicate the change of mental self image as much as a portal to an underworld, and the mirror, pure surface, is also two-dimensional rather than three dimensional: Jessie becomes vain when she embraces the miror self and not her actual self, and becomes narcissist, pushed by the hollywood system of images creatd and modulated by men, those who are never in danger in the film./ The battle is only between female, and in hollywood, those who cannot accept that their image loses worth as a commodity, break away from themselves and develop sicknesses such as vampirism, necrophilism and cannibalism, after altering their self to become a miror image (anorexia is a way, addictio to drug to perform also).
There are two worlds in The neon demon, the neon demon being hollywood glow and appearance discourse, as the glitter from the title shows.

The reflexions absorb the viewer and makes it being viewed rather than viewing, thus inverting the worlds: the emblem of the feminine body, the martrix ou utero inside the v shaped vagina is then reversed and multiplying self images into kaleidoscopic views, showing also that mirrors and identity are multiples, but in the end, the light show transforms a naive, hopeful girl into a cold creature self absorbed which is then eaten by the incarnatio nof the system, those who internalized the values of hollywood yet couldn't achieve proper status in this very system, and so grew frustrated and turn against every possible opponent and competitors, getting close to them then eating them as the machine does, metaphorically. A make up artist, which creates and modulates images, working behind the scene, and two models on the down slope, the first working under the city in a morgue, in a place where she makes up dead people whose appearance, pure body is the last trace of them. All of them kill jessie inside an old manor, an appearance and last glimmer of the dacaying hollywood system which always moves to new souces of power, where only ghosts, vampires, creatures of the night and associated with death live, is the place where dwell such frustrated people.
Refn uses light and symbolism, finishing with an eaten eye, the absorption of the very thing which allows yet refuses glory and social acceptation, and is fragmentary, taken away from bodies, becoming a disgusting and bloody, gory remnant of the horror one must bear in the neon demon world.
Many times in the movie, travellings go into mirror where jessie is only a reflection of herself. The violence of the other model in the toilet is thrown at her mirror, at another her-self, which breaks the fake world and brings back violence from symbolic and metaphoric violence to actual physical violence.
The actual first "shoot" with Jessie is a great foreshadoiwing as much as the other side of the needs and cravings of the city-system of hollywood.
The violence from alienation in Refn movies, graduated greatly in only god forgives and the neon demon, from raw, gritty action and naturalist, bursting violence to symbolical, multi-layered, formalist violence slow paced, violence becoming as much a need, a strength as a outlet of frustration, a means of liberation derivated from its origins and causes.
The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives are truly mental movies, mostly shot in studios and inside, where the city is an actual territory whose power absorbs and alienates the people living in them, granting them power but in ambiguous ways, where light foreshadows and materialises inner pulsions . Bangkok and the dojo, the bedrooms, LA and the morgue, the manor, the hotel and the puma.

November 2, 2016 at 7:14PM, Edited November 2, 7:25PM

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Joachim Mouffron
Director/ Wannabe Director of Photography
81

Great, ha. Thank you! I didn't exactly have enough room to go in depth on Lacan's mirror theory, but I did want to mention it. Thanks for your helpful explication. Much appreciated!

November 3, 2016 at 10:39AM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

I'll never get Jacob T. Swinney "work". These are NOT video essays!! I don't get how he has a following. He mashes a bunch of cuts together about the same thing and puts his name on the end of it like it's his gift to all of us while maybe saying a sentence or two in the description about... nothing. I don't get it.

November 2, 2016 at 7:18PM

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bp
395

Well, you know, I think it was Abe Lincoln what said, "You can't please all the something something all the time." Don't quote me! Thanks for reading, though.

November 3, 2016 at 10:49AM, Edited November 3, 10:49AM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

Do you actually like Swinney? Do you get anything from his "work"? Your article is only interesting because of what you wrote, which is great. How do you feel about what he does?

November 3, 2016 at 1:24PM

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bp
395

What did you guys think of The Neon Demon? When I watched it I was so repulsed and couldn't wait for it to be over. After watching it, i couldn't stop thinking about it. I loved it after the fact. It's a very strange film.

November 4, 2016 at 7:28AM

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