Nicolas Winding Refn is a Danish filmmaker responsible for some of contemporary cinema’s most brutally stylish films. Refn’s parents also work in film—his father is a director and editor and his mother is a cinematographer. His parents found their inspiration in the French New Wave, which Refn compared to the antichrist. He was quoted saying, “how better to rebel against your parents than by watching something your mother is going to hate, which were American horror movies.” He found his own inspiration to become a filmmaker after watching the 1974 American horror film ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’
After seeing what Kevin Smith was able to do with his extremely low-budget 16mm comedy debut, ‘Clerks,’ Refn decided to make his first film, titled ‘Pusher.’ Like ‘Clerks,’ ‘Pusher’ was shot on 16mm and filmed in real locations with a shoestring budget. ‘Pusher’ would eventually become the first installment in a trilogy of films about a drug dealer with the next installments being completed nearly a decade later.
His second film titled ‘Bleeder’ is another hard-hitting crime drama—this time, about a group of friends who work at a video store in Copenhagen. His next film, and first English language film, is titled ‘Fear X.’ It stars John Turturro as a man trying to solve his wife’s murder. The film was not well received and was a financial failure and ultimately caused Refn’s production company, Jang Go Star, to go bankrupt leaving Refn over a million dollars in debt.
But Refn made his comeback with a film titled ‘Bronson’ in 2008. The film stars Tom Hardy in the titular role as a famous English criminal in prison who spent many years in solitary confinement due to his outrageous behavior. The character was loosely based on real-life prisoner Michael Gordon Peterson— named one of the UK’s most dangerous criminals. He followed ‘Bronson’ with ‘Valhalla Rising’—a Viking film shot in Scotland that follows a warrior named One-Eye.
Several of these films reached some level of acclaim, but they were mostly unsuccessful financially. It wasn’t until 2011’s ‘Drive’ that Refn became a major player in contemporary American cinema. ‘Drive’ is a highly stylized modern day noir film about a Hollywood stunt driver who finds himself up against some of Los Angeles’ most dangerous gangsters. The film really struck a chord with American audiences who praised Ryan Gosling’s silent tough guy protagonist and the 80s synth pop aesthetic. ‘Drive’ ended up winning Refn the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
He teamed up with Ryan Gosling again for his most recent film, titled ‘Only God Forgives,’ which he characterizes as a western that takes place in the Far East. The film was shot entirely in Bangkok, Thailand and follows a man coaxed by his mother into taking revenge on an almost supernatural police lieutenant who was responsible for the death of Gosling’s murderous brother. Refn takes the hyper-stylized aesthetic of ‘Drive’ even further in ‘Only God Forgives’ with an intensely powerful soundtrack composed by Cliff Martinez and highly saturated yet brooding neon colored lights, which is possibly related to his colorblindness.
Refn’s next feature, titled ‘The Neon Demon,’ is set to be released in 2016 and I, for one, cannot wait to see how his creativity continues to evolve.
Tyler Knudsen, a San Francisco Bay Area native, has been a student of film for most of his life. Appearing in several television commercials as a child, Tyler was inspired to shift his focus from acting to directing after performing as a featured extra in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come. He studied Film & Digital Media with an emphasis on production at the University of California, Santa Cruz and recently moved to New York City where he currently resides with his girlfriend.