In Hinduism, there is a branch of yoga studies called Vamachara, or Vamamarga. Popular misconceptions have it that this branch is the “evil” kind, in that it encourages the practitioner to dabble in the forbidden, namely the five M’s, roughly translated as meat, fish, cereal, sex and certain ritual gestures.
With me so far? Good.
All faiths and all cultures have certain tropes and mores that are considered evil or taboo, in the sense that they are at right angles to what is permissible. The Aghori of India train themselves to reach beyond what is taboo, to what is hidden on the other side, not of the taboos, but of their own perceptions.
When I first watched “Valhalla Rising” by Nicolas Winding Refn, I fell badly in love. I say badly, since everyone knows the feeling of falling in love with the wrong girl or the wrong boy. You are bound for heartbreak and hurt, but you press forward regardless. It is what you need to do. You can almost taste the heartbreak, and it doesn’t matter.
It was everything I hoped it would be. It hurt. It burned. It made me profoundly melancholy. It made me wish for a better world, made up of people who were more free.
Then I watched “Bronson” and went through it all again. This movie was a slightly more cheerful event, though, featuring a fulfilled protagonist in spite of his incarceration.
Then came “Drive“. Didn’t much care for it, really. It was OK. It featured many of the same ideas Refn stuck in the other two movies, but nowhere near as boldly. It had a wider appeal, but didn’t really strike me as subversive or radical in the way Refn does better than anybody else.
And now, Refn has returned with what promises to be an elegant return to form, if the production notes, movie trailers and interviews are anything to go by. It is called “Only God Forgives” and is definitely making my limbic system act all funny.
Some people might argue that living vicariously, at a remove from reality, the way you do when watching a movie, is anything BUT subversive, edgy, transgressive and taboo-breaking. But all great revolutions start as the spark of an idea, as an inspired train of thought. Without that first Promethean spark, no revolution.
If you want to experience something unusual, something outside your comfort zone, something that lurks deep inside your mind, you could do far worse than set aside your preconceptions and watch Refn’s previous films. Still your mind. Listen.
If, after the viewing, you find you need to look further into what lurks beneath the person you show the world every day, you may just have seen the same film I did.
Time to meet the Devil.