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The Letting Go: The Horror of Being Orphaned in Nicolas Winding Refn's Cinema




In this article, I read the recent cinema of the Danish-American Director Nicolas Winding Refn through a contradictory complex of Freudian–Jungian psychoanalysis, Bataillean philosophy and Buddhist thought. By focusing on Winding Refn’s three most recent films, Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, I explore his representation of what I call the horror of contemporary orphan identity, and show how he contrasts this with a mystical sense of wholeness and unity comparable to that which appears in the works of Jung, Bataille and before both of these writers, Buddhist philosophy. Beyond the lonely figure of the orphan, who we also find outlined in Jung’s work on child archetypes, Winding Refn constructs a nightmarish dystopia, the post-modern city, which is characterised by violence, objectification and estrangement. Inside this complex, Winding Refn tells the story of the destroyed self of the lonely orphan lost in post-modern urban space, and considers possible futures for this abandoned, exposed, desperate individual. It is this story of loneliness, abandonment and tragic attempts to escape from the pain of loss which I explore in this article by first, exploring the ways in which Drive exposes the horror of the orphan in contemporary Los Angeles and captures the terror of the self endlessly on the run; second, reading Only God Forgives in terms of an attempt to think through possible escape from the desperate condition of the orphan by taking up Buddhist philosophy and images of the ritualistic destruction of the self; and finally thinking about the way The Neon Demon opposes these two positions in a psycho-politics of on the one hand desperate self-making and on the other hand the Buddhist non-self and cosmological escapism.


featherstone. (2017). The Letting Go: The Horror of Being Orphaned in Nicolas Winding Refn's Cinema.

Acceptance Date Aug 11, 2017
Publication Date Aug 30, 2017
Journal Journal of Cultural Research
Print ISSN 2222-2480
Keywords Winding Ren, cinema, psychoanalysis, violence, orphan
Publisher URL


The Letting Go Article 11817.docx (61 Kb)

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