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The Neon Demon
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Neon Demon is an unusual drama from acclaimed cult favorite director Nicolas Winding Refn, who's best known for Drive (2011). It's extremely mature, with shocking violence: dead bodies, lots of blood, murder, death, suicide, punching, painful wounds, threats, and the sounds of a possible rape. And that list doesn't even include the most startling image of all, involving an eyeball. Women are shown topless, and there's strong sexual material, including a woman having sex with a female corpse. Language is infrequent but includes a few uses of "f--k," "p---y," and "a--hole." Some characters smoke cigarettes, and there's some background drinking.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE NEON DEMON, in the modeling world of Los Angeles, small-town, fresh-faced Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a rising star. Surrounded by chiseled women who've undergone surgery to make their bodies and faces more "perfect," Jesse has a natural quality that draws photographers and fashion designers to her. A young shutterbug (Karl Glusman) tries to date her, and makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) tries to befriend her, but there are always strings attached. Two of Ruby's model friends (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) are wary of Jesse, mindful that they could begin losing jobs to her. Finally, when the manager (Keanu Reeves) of Jesse's hotel gets out of hand, Jesse calls on Ruby. But everything leads up to an incident of unexpected violence.
Is it any good?
This exquisite nonsense from director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for the excellent Drive, has very little substance -- it's not exactly art -- but it does have plenty of style and tension. Drawing inspiration from David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Brian De Palma, and others, The Neon Demon is a variety of surfaces and reflections, characters looking and being looked at. It purports to explore the nature of beauty while itself trying to be beautiful. But it really doesn't dig much deeper than that.
The movie is filled with crazy, breathtaking moments -- such as a mountain lion suddenly appearing in Jesse's room, a blood-soaked photo session, a lights-out photo session, and a strobe-lit performance at a party. It all leads up to a shocking, giddily disgusting conclusion that doesn't exactly complete the thesis but is at least memorable. The cinematography is always dreamily vivid, and an electronic score by Cliff Martinez frequently sends the images floating off into ecstasy.
Talk to your kids about ...
How are sex and nudity treated in the movie? Is it meant to be titillating, or does it have a different effect? Why? How much sexual content in media is appropriate for kids?
What do you think the movie is trying to say about beauty? Is it something to strive for at any cost? Why or why not?
Does the movie have a positive representation of female body image or a negative one? Why?
What's the allure of the modeling industry? Does this movie make being a model more appealing or less appealing?
- In theaters: June 24, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: September 27, 2016
- Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves
- Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
- Studios: Broad Green Pictures, Amazon Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.