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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Neon Demon

Dazzling & Glittery


The Neon Demon is by far the most misunderstood film I've ever seen in my entire life. What Europe saw as a dazzling and glittery masterpiece, America saw as demonization and sexualization of teenage girls. If you don't like the film, fine but I for one am so fed up with critics who place women being portrayed as complex and flawed in the same box as women being shown in a negative light. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a sixteen-year-old aspiring model who just moved to LA. The industry quickly recognizes her and she starts to take it by storm. As her success begins to escalate so does the blood boiling jealousy of Sarah and Gigi (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote), two other models who are jealous of her vanity.


The atmosphere of The Neon Demon is very shallow and pretentious but for a film like this, it's not a criticism. There's hardly any character development but it's done in a way that presents the film as a clever docudrama as opposed to silly trash like Showgirls. The Neon Demon is really an encyclopedia on the modeling industry, physical beauty, the positives, and the negatives behind it and what it means to people. When we’re children we’re taught that it's what's on the inside that counts but then we grow up and learn the world doesn't hold us (particularly women) to those standards.


I think it is just human nature to want to be physically attractive and have everyone else be as well. Yet, there comes a point well past verbally taking people down where the illusion of external perfection becomes your entire identity. Jesse doesn't see herself as the vixen that others do when she first arrives but as her face and body skyrocket, she starts to develop a new persona. There's a scene where she's standing in front of a diving board over an empty swimming pool where she gives a monologue to Ruby, (Jena Malone) the makeup artist (and friend of Sarah and Gigi) who she befriended earlier about how others see her.


“I know what I look like. What's wrong with that anyway? Women would kill to look like this. They carve and stuff and inject themselves. They starve to death, hoping, praying that one day, they'll look like a second rate version of me”. Jesse isn't smug in her delivery of these words but she's not disturbed either. She's just acknowledging what she's learned is the LA norm.


Jesse's initial photographer is told that if Jesse wasn't beautiful, he wouldn't have even stopped to look at her. Perhaps, the title The Neon Demon refers to this internal weed inside us that rots as it says people will always be evil so physical beauty is the closest thing we have to goodness and without that, we're already dead.


The cinematography is the BEST cinematography I've ever seen in my life. The red and blue lighting of the LA nights, the dark runways, and shady nightclubs all point towards my shock it didn't win the Oscar and wasn't even nominated. Given that only one woman was ever nominated in that category, it shouldn't shock me so much but I constantly rewatch the film and it's like I'm seeing it again for the first time. Some films are meant to be overwhelming and The Neon Demon overwhelmed me so much, it was like I was struck by lighting.


Jesse is the only model who has not undergone any plastic surgery. She's a natural beauty and that's where the jealousy comes from. Ruby's a makeup artist so her whole job is to beautify those who are already beautiful. She's not intimidated by Jesse the way Sarah and Gigi are. Ruby sees Jesse as this sculpture for her to work with. It's as though Ruby’s Leonardo Da Vinci and Jesse’s the Mona Lisa.


The Neon Demon is a horror fairytale and as such, Ruby, Sarah and Gigi represent the three witches - the mother, the maiden, and the crow. Ruby’s mother Witch (The covens queen), Sarah is the maidan because she's pretty in comparison to Gigi (The crow), the only one who can't hide trauma towards Jesse. Gigi’s undergone so many surgeries that Jesse’s presence is like a shadow that's saying, what's it all for? Sarah can hide her disdain as she gives off these stares that work well in photographers' favors while Gigi gets to a point where she feels she has nothing to offer.


One of the best (but also the most frightening) things about The Neon Demon is that the shallow mindsets of the characters are so mirrored to our society that we're hardly affected by people like them anymore. You can just watch the film and soak yourself in its visual memorability - the only thing the characters will have left.


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Merba Gioconda
Jul 23, 2020

Max, 2 words...You’re brilliant ❤️

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