Another slice of stylized cool and ultraviolence, the film tells the story of Julian (Gosling), an American fugitive living in Bangkok, who seeks justice for the death of his brother, shortly after his sibling has murdered a young prostitute. Beckoning him in his quest for blood? His mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), the head of a criminal enterprise, and it's that angle that intrigued Refn. "We are so used to seeing crime and violence as being the work of male characters that the very notion of seeing a woman embody absolute evil - and a mother to boot - it was great fun to write," he says in the press notes for the film. "I had Kristin in mind for the part of Julian’s mother early on. We met in Paris and I thought it would be very interesting to do a combination of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace…"
And while 'Forgives' will go down as another bromantic entry in the CVs of Refn and Gosling, the director reminds folks that Luke Evans was initially given the lead role. "Another actor was supposed to play Julian but pulled out close to shooting. Now I consider this a blessing because it allowed Ryan and me to continue our collaboration," Refn explains. "Oddly, I’d written the screenplay before I made 'Drive' and Julian had been conceived as a very silent character. When Ryan and I started to work on the script after 'Drive' this language of silence came naturally, which was very useful since Julian is an extremely tortured character - he never goes towards others but withdraws into himself. With hindsight I can’t imagine another actor playing this role. But again, Ryan and I are practically one."
Indeed, the influence of "Drive" is felt all over the movie, as is another key entry in Refn's catalog, though he says this only occurred to him later on, and wasn't overtly intentional. Here's his full director's statement:
The original concept for the film was to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God. That is, of course, a very vast obstacle but when I was writing the film, I was going through some very existential times in my life - we were expecting our second child and it was a difficult pregnancy - and the idea of having a character who wants to fight God without knowing why very much appealed to me.
With that as the concept, I elaborated by adding a character who believes he is God (Chang), obviously the antagonist, with the protagonist being a gangster who is looking for religion to believe in (Julian). This itself is, of course, very existential because faith is based on the need for a higher answer but most of the time, we don’t know what the question is. When the answer comes, then, we must backtrack our lives in order to find the question. In this way, the film is conceived as an answer, with the question revealed at the end.
With hindsight, I am able to see the similarities between Chang and One Eye in Valhalla Rising, and Driver in Drive - all are rooted in fairytale mythology and have difficulties living in the everyday world. I can see that technically, there is a resemblance in their stoic behavior, silence, and fetishistic portraits even though they live in different times and are portrayed by different actors. In Valhalla Rising, One Eye is enigmatic - we don’t know his past but he is defined by his name. In Drive, Driver is defined by his function. And in Only God Forgives, Chang is first of all defined by his enigmatic behaviour, to such an extent that he becomes a disembodied character, an ‘it’, defined not by his name but solely by his image.
In a way, Only God Forgives is like an accumulation of all the films I’ve made so far. I think I was heading toward a creative collision, full speed ahead, in order to change everything around me and to see what would come after. I have always said that I set out to make films about women but I end up making films about violent men. Now that everything is colliding, it may end up turning things upside-down for me. This collision is exciting because everything around me becomes so uncertain and we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.
So, check out the batch of new images below and in case you missed it, here are the complete soundtrack details. "Only God Forgives" opens on July 19th.