If there’s one director to have emerged in the past two decades who treats on-screen violence as both an art form and form of honest brutality, it would be Nicolas Winding Refn. Probably first introduced to U.S. audiences en masse with “Bronson” — which was also a huge break for Tom Hardy — Refn has proven himself a master of things gory, unflinching in his depiction of the horrific acts people commit against one another.
Dávid Velenczei edited together four and a half minutes of some of the most violent scenes in Refn’s films for Press Play, and the resultant montage raises questions. Primarily, how should we — consumers, filmgoers, people — respond to such graphic depictions of savagery?
Given the range of films, settings, and even time periods depicted in the video, we must cast aside the thought that Refn’s violence is restricted to just one of his films. Or just two. Now, spanning the “Pusher” trilogy, “Drive,” “Valhalla Rising,” “Only God Forgives,” and the aforementioned “Bronson,” the images Velenczei selected represent pretty much Refn’s entire filmography, which takes audiences from the U.K. to Asia to the States, even back in time to the age of the Vikings. Violence — at least in the world as Refn sees it — is endemic in human life.
Therein lies the fundamental thesis. If violence — like sex, like betrayal, like laughter — is a fundamental quality of mankind’s existence, then should filmmakers avoid it? Should it be shunned? Like those other experiences we share, can it not, dare we ask, even be beautiful (at least on film)?
Refn is in no way the first (nor will he be the last) director to use violence in his work. He’s not even the most graphic in his treatment of it. Yet, it is a staple of his films. Are we allowed to appreciate those bloodthirsty acts for what they are, given how he brings them to the screen? Watch below and see how you feel about it.