A light illuminates Jesse’s face, and we see Harrington approach in silhouette from roughly a thousand miles away (the photography studio looks about the size of an aircraft hangar), something dripping from his hand.
He looks at Jesse as if grateful to share the creation of something beautiful between them, as if seeing her as a person rather than as a vessel, but only for a moment. The look fades to regret, then hollowness as he closes himself off from anything resembling human tenderness before striding away to his camera. This is typical of one of the film’s strengths, where very little is said and almost everything is communicated through movement and gesture.
It is as if his role as a fashion photographer, constantly searching for perfection, has drained him of the ability to allow himself to feel, not to mention his health and seemingly all of his bodily fluids. That the depths show through, just for a moment, speaks volumes regarding Harrington’s talents, and the skill of director Nicolas Winding Refn.
There are problems. Some characters such as Christina Hendricks’s modelling agent appear then disappear as if just passing through. Keanu Reeves gives a great performance and his slickly vile motel manager is creepy as hell. So it seems rather daft that Jesse keeps coming back, and doesn’t just up sticks and find a slightly less life-threatening motel when her modelling takes off and the cash starts coming in.
Certain elements are overly vague or hinted at without being resolved, such as what is going on with the recurrent intersecting triangle thing that Jesse sees a lot of. Also, lying naked on the floor, drenched in moonlight in front of a vast window looking out on a city might feel fey and romantic, but wouldn’t all that blood pouring from your genitals make a horrible mess of that lovely wood flooring? Luckily, the narrative is strong enough to pull us past these issues.
The film has some interesting things to say about transience and being consumed by an industry or an ideal. That cosmetic beauty is not enough – there needs to be something intangible beneath to make it truly fascinating. But the film works best as an experience to revel in.
You can catch glimpses of Brian Yuzna’s Society or Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou in the more surreal moments, but the film has a look and feel that in places is almost soporific, entirely its own. Upon its release, the film opened to polarized reviews and quickly tanked at the box office. It deserved better.
Andrew Kolarik (left) lives and works in Cambridge, England. He is a research psychologist. His fiction has appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, Supernatural Tales, Carillon, Eunoia Review and at Horla. For a number of years he wrote post-punk lyrics for live performances in London (he hails from South London) and Cardiff.
Photo credit – Picture of Fanning: Elle Fanning at the iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles, California on March 14, 2019 – Photo by Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDiogital.com