Film Analysis and Review of ‘Only God Forgives’

Hey guys it’s Ian,

So i wanted to do a film analysis of the 2013 Neo noir film ‘Only God Forgives’

This has been almost universally panned since it’s release. Its been put down by a lot of critics and I feel this is due to a lack of understanding and appreciation of the film. I happen to think along with a small majority of people that it in fact is  masterpiece work of art. The film is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn ( you may be familiar with his previously released film he directed known as ‘Drive’). It stars Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm. 

Gosling plays Julian; an owner of a muay thai school/underground fight club. This also fronts a narcotics ring for the Bangkok underground drug market. His brother Billy eventually gets mixed up in a bad situation where he murders a teenage prostitute. When found by the police, the chief officer (Chang) allows the victim’s father to murder Billy with his bare hands as an act of revenge. The father is then punished by Chang who cuts his hands off for allowing the daughter to sell her body.

After news spreads of Billy’s horrible act, Julian feels his brother got what he deserved. His mother however does not agree and flies in to Thailand to oversee vengeance against her son’s murderer. Conflict between Chang, Julian and his mother ensues and let’s just say this movie gets extremely violent so this is not for everyone.

This film is currently streaming on Netflix if anyone is interested in watching it


So anyways, this film was widely released in theatre alongside blockbusters. It was almost universally panned and is dubbed as either too slow or confusing, mostly due to very little dialogue.

I completely disagree with these statements. It is not meant to be digested the same way a movie like say “Avengers” should be (I’m nopt hating on the Avengers I love that movie). But this isnt some action movie thats supposed to satiate the audience with explosions and monsters, its a dark intricate piece of art that should be appreciated as such. I do feel that people need to be aware going into this movie that it is like that.

The cinematography in this film is AMAZING the use of color feels so right, every scenes mood is set flawlessly with the varying hues and makes you want to pause it every second and paint it (thats one of the only ways I can explain it).

Im not religious in anyway what so ever but I do have the appreciation for the use of it in storytelling, which is the case in this film. Julian is depicted as a man fighting with God. He has an inner struggle with his own peace and moral compass. Throughout the film it is apparent that he has done bad things in the past that he has unrelenting guilt for including the murder of his father. There are similarities to be drawn to many master works of literature such as Macbeth, Oedipus and so on.

Throughout the film the recurring themes are the guilt of both crimes committed in the past and the current lack of moral stability in the present. Both of which are manifested in the imagery of hands, from the way he fights, beats people to near death, the way Chang punishes his victims, even the focused parts of Julians visions/dreams all focus on his hands in one way or another.

Chang, is the main antagonist of the film and is basically symbolic of God. It is made very apparent during the fight scene between Julian and Chang. Julian is brutally defeated and is laying on the ground looking up at his competitor; Chang, who is standing in a determined pose. The pose mirrors the pose of the fighter statue Julian prays to everyday. Many other violent interactions occur throughout but eventually at the climax of the film Julian stands in a field hold out his arms with a look of serenity. Chang stands in front of him with his sword drawn and cuts off Julian’s hands. This is the point at which Julian feels redeemed for his sins. The removal of the hands (symbolizing his guilt) allows Julian his inner peace. finally forgiven by his god.

I absolutely love this film and I do believe it is a masterwork in it’s own right. It just needs to be looked at with some attempt of artistic analysis and appreciation.

I highly recommend it.

Check it out and tell me what you guys think

One thought on “Film Analysis and Review of ‘Only God Forgives’

  1. Ian!

    I have been meaning to watch this film forever. Drive is currently one of my favorite films – I agree with you that Refn’s films are particularly more pieces of art or statement and need to go into being watched in a different mindset than an action film, romantic comedy or other more mainstream film thats more simply for entertainment (which are all good and fun in their own right of course). And the cinematography is amazing! I think the way he juxtaposes such extreme violence with quiet, beautiful moments of real human emotions (i.e. romance, family love, so on) is so interesting and effective. Your post got me really excited to watch this film, which I have also heard mixed feelings on, despite ignoring your spoiler alerts and reading on, because with this type of film I think the plot is not as significant an aspect in its impact on the viewer.

    ~Katie Loughrey

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