Artwork by Chloe Leeson
During the promotional tour of The Neon Demon, director Nicholas Winding-Refn has made a recurring statement about his indie-thriller, one he so passionately emphasises that it landed itself as the headline for his interview in British film mag Little White Lies. The line is: “I wanted to make a film about the 16-year-old girl inside me”.
Considering the film portrays a vulture-like fashion industry where the predators are misinterpreted as being mostly women – whereas in reality it’s mostly men – and the women wear tight leather skirts when working in mortuaries, it’s healthy to wonder if Refn knows about women in general, let alone teenage girls specifically.
One thing’s for sure: He doesn’t mean the sixteen year-old who has no idea what to do with either her hair or her life post-Compulsory Education. He doesn’t mean the sixteen year-old girl picking out the outfits that will make her thirty year-old self cringe when she looks back at the pictures, or the one trying to understand her changing body. He doesn’t mean the Insta-addict, or the book-worm, or the Is It Too Late For Me To Learn Guitar? teen, who manages to feel insecure about her face-shape type, or her eyebrow curve, or her thigh gap width.
Nope. The teenage girl inside of him is based on the pretend sixteen year-old girl; the one you see in movies. Don’t pretend you don’t know who we’re talking about: she’s the one with a child’s rambling, playful mind but a woman’s fully-developed *hawt bod* (ie: big boobs). She’s the one who wears little cheerleading skirts to the mall and flirts with her male, receding, ennui-filled married schoolteacher. She’s the acne-free, greasy-hair-free, responsibility-free sixteen year-old, who is Actually Played By A 22 Year-Old Hollywood Actress and written by a white man who is so used to his privilege, that he wants to imagine what it’s like to tap into the relatively tiny power a young woman has to – yes – turn on that white privileged man.
That is the teenage girl we’re constantly seeing.
We exist in a culture that fetishizes the sexuality of barely-pubescent girls, that holds up teenage girls/young women as a sort of standard of beauty in a manner where their blatant objectification can still be idealised, unwittingly or otherwise, by both the objects (girls and women) and the objectfier (the media and the patriarchy, which both largely benefit). Even Elle Fanning, who fills TND’s primary role, exclaimed that she doesn’t understand his glamorisation of sixteen year-old girls. Refn has no hesitation in evidencing that, considering the statement he made about the book Lolita: “One of the great controversial novels of all time is Lolita, and you can certainly discuss who the demon is and not in that. Because men are easy. They are really dumb, and women are so much more complex and sophisticated.”
Is he implying that Lolita is the demon because she’s a woman (even though she’s twelve, but, okay) and women are more conniving than men ie the sex famed for their inability to manipulate seeing they’re oh so stupid?
Didn’t he realise that the novel is unreliably narrated by Humbert Humbert, a paedophilic rapist who projects onto real-name Dolores a made-up, sexualised ‘Lolita’ that accepts and encourages HH, so to fool himself into feeling better about it? Didn’t he notice that the reason the namesake character has hardly any dialogue in the book is because the author is making it very clear that she was either too afraid to say anything, that HH didn’t care for what she truly felt or that her account could never parallel with what HH is trying to convince us happened, even if she suffered Stockholm Syndrome? Did he read the part where the narrator himself admits, as the book nears to an end, that he “ruined her life”; as in he accepts full responsibility? Did he even read the book?
With that said, TND probably does open up an opportunity for dialogue on the modelling industry. However, it’s a very open-ended movie that doesn’t seem to criticise it as much as it implies that it wants to. As for Refn, for every comment of his that hits the mark (such as: “We live in a very sexualised society. Men want to sexualise youth, women want to consume it. If you’re 25 you’re not 17, but what happens when you’re 17 and you’re not 14? It’s going in that direction whether we like it or not [and] it’s scary”), he says stuff like the aforementioned Lolita statement, or freeing his inner-teenage girl, or the second-half of this MTV interview. He just keeps missing the mark.
By Sharon Igbokwe
Sharon is a 16-year-old zombie warrior from the south-east of England, who adores Wes Anderson; excessively taking photos with disposable cameras and reading books (The Bell Jar; The Help, Memoirs of a Geisha; The Name Of This Book Is Secret series and Catcher In The Rye are some favourites). When it comes to films, she’s a fanatic – from indie films and features to foreign (preferably French) films and those set in the 1900s as they have a certain nostalgia to them. She talks about all sorts of things, including films, at her blog for teens and other cool breeds and species called WisdomTooth. Plus, she posts photography on Instagram, which she v. strangely only recently discovered, tweets the occasional song lyric on Twitter and excessively pins collages and fancy still-life photography on herPinterest account.