THE NEON DEMON (2016): Nicholas Winding Refn’s Golden Buddha

The metaphor of the Golden Buddha is a humorous bit of Hollywood lore. Lew Hunter passes it along in his classic Screenwriting 434 (Revised ed., 2004). In a nutshell, it teaches the lesson that every screenplay is, in essence, a pile of crap. It’s how the writer molds, crafts, and adorns that lump that matters. Artistry determines whether s/he can transform it into a thing of beauty like a golden statue of the Buddha.

Applied to The Neon Demon, Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2016 slow-burn horror-thriller, the Golden Buddha metaphor is apt. From the standpoint of form and style, it is a well-made film, beautiful to watch. In other words, Refn has applied the golden paint to his Buddha with skill. As a story, the movie is a rather thin and clichéd tale. In other words, the statue’s gilding does not hide the material from which its maker has created it.

Terror Tuesday: Nicholas Winding Refn’s “NEON DEMON” (2016)

It is tempting to compare NEON DEMON to STARRY EYES, but I think that would sell both films short. Both films deal with the predatory nature of fame and are strong visually, but they each have their focus. The lead in STARRY EYES, Sarah, understands what she has to sacrifice and does it willingly. But there is, at least in the beginning, a genuine naïveté and original drive about her.