Nicolas Winding Refn once described Drive – his Cannes d’Or-winning drama about a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver – as ‘Pretty in Pink with a head smash’. It’s a fitting description: whether you love or hate them, his films are hard to forget, not just because of their slick visuals and atmospheric soundtracks but their graphic sex and violence. Refn isn’t afraid to shock – as anyone who’s seen Neon Demon (a macabre exploration of our obsession with youth and beauty, told through the lens of LA’s fashion world, which featured a particularly gory necrophilia scene) will attest.
The director’s work is famously divisive: Neon Demon split opinion among critics, with some giving the film five stars and others walking out during a screening at Cannes, and the Telegraph hailing it “the most offensive film of the year”. Only God Forgives – a dark and twisted tale about a drug trafficker living in Bangkok – was described as “brilliant and macabre” in the Guardian and a work of “supreme style and minimal substance” in Variety.
But Refn doesn’t think creativity is about pleasing people. When it comes to culture, he says, “There is no such as good or bad…. We have to remember creativity’s essence is not to please or hate, it’s to polarise, it’s to stir up emotions, to give us something to talk about. Everyone agreeing is as mundane as everyone not agreeing … in culture, you need diversity.”