Nicolas Winding Refn might have expressed disdain in 2011 for Lars von Trier's infamous Nazi remarks at Cannes, but the fellow Danish auteur is no less a provocateur, as evidenced both by his bleak, ultra-violent Palme d'Or contender "Only God Forgives," which premiered this morning at the festival, and some comments made at the film's press conference.
In the film, Ryan Gosling plays a young American living in exile in Bangkok who sets out to avenge his murdered brother at the behest of his menacing mother (a feisty Kristin Scott Thomas). Like Refn's last film "Drive," "Only God Forgives" features a shot of a crushed skull, but that's nothing compared to a hard to watch sequence where a man's eyes are stabbed in gruesome closeup among other violent acts.
"Art is an act of violence," Refn said when asked why his films feature such extreme imagery. "Art is about penetration. Art is about speaking to our subconscious and our needs on different levels."
"I approach things very much like a pornographer," he continued. "It's about what arouses people. Certain things turn me on more than other stuff. I can't suppress that need; that's how it usually ends up like that.
"I don't consider myself a very violent man. But I have a fetish for violent emotions, violent images; I can't explain where it comes from. I do believe that through art it's a way to exercise certain things in you, and for the viewer it's the reverse. Let's not forget that human beings were created for violence. Our body parts were created for violence mostly based on instinctual needs to survive. We have a spiritual need for it that we exercise."