Archive for September 4th, 2013


© 2013 by James Clark

Our title phrase comes to the heart of this, generally dismissed as heartless, film from 2013. It does so in two ways, which can go a considerable distance toward disarming the claim that it is not only sickening but stupid. The first way, far more easily comprehended, has to do with the speaker, Billy, an American drug dealer in Bangkok, handing over a pittance to a successful Thai kick boxer at the gym he and his brother operate as a front for the exchange of real money. (As with the small-time athletics between the Clippers and the Raptors at the outset of Refn’s previous film, Drive [2011], this smallness implies a form of bigness. In presenting the money, Billy remarks, “My brother was right. You’re a great fighter…” Apparently, then, it is that second American expatriate, Julian, who pays much more attention to the front—thereby introducing his more generous range than that of Billy. It is well to touch upon this matter here, because discovering where the bigness is to be found in Only God Forgives is a considerably more daunting task than it was regarding Drive.) Billy’s crack about not getting reckless with a bit of small change thinly conceals his contempt for someone he regards as a nonentity in contradistinction to his own high-impact superiority as confirmed by his far larger cash flow. Rapidly moving on to demonstrate the extent of his disdain for those without deep pockets, Billy visits a brothel and puts on display the dimensions of an appetite that could graze to the heart’s content. He starts by declaring, “I want to fuck a fourteen-year-old.” On being given no satisfaction along those lines by the impresario, he offers him 15,000 for his daughter (“Bring her in…”); and again his progress is undone. Thereby, he smashes into the glass, floor-to-ceiling confection display case where a number of women recline (beating up the owner en route) and he proceeds to wreak havoc, savagely kicking and punching the girls (in a dismal parody of the winner/loser actions in the gym, seen at the outset) and topping off his Alpha chagrin by raping one of them and killing her with a handgun, leaving the tasty nook awash in gore.
As it happens, young Billy is not the only irresistible force in town. The middle-aged leader of a uniformed corps of security servicemen (a SWAT team without the heavy hardware) grimly surveys the carnage and soon after calmly delivers a sermon to the father of the dead girl. “How could you do it?” he remonstrates, his face set in a mixture of incredulity and déjà vu. “You could have protected her,” he adds, introducing traces of chivalry. The dad on the spot mutters something about “making ends meet;” and, as if finding in that metaphor more provocation, the cop goes on to remind him that now the point is “about your three daughters still alive.” Drawing a sword from the nape of his collar he chops off one of the careless man’s hands; and while the latter howls in pain we have to get past that disconcerting antiquity and recall that, before giving him a permanent disability, the chieftain also gave him some marching orders—“Now’s your chance to do something.” Though we are diverted here by a scene where Billy’s brother shows us how difficult it is for some players to get from point A to point B, we soon come to a disclosure of where the cue to “do something” (as augmented by, “Do what you want”) leads—namely, to Billy as mutilated and dead as the girl he savaged. (more…)

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