Too good to be true

Sublime but dehumanized, the first show made by Drive‘s director, Nicolas Winding Refn, is as fascinating as boring. Explanations.

By Caroline Veunac

Reading time 3 min.

Too Old to Die Young


The acronym NWR with which he stamps his credits is a proof that Nicolas Winding Refn wants the world to consider him as a brand. His first movies, Pusher‘s trilogy, directed in the early 2000’s, were dirty and rough. Little by little, and especially since he made it to Hollywood in 2011 with Drive, the director turned his style into something more elegant and standard, up to the point it became sort of classy and trash specifications, made from velvet nights and neon lights. As he became famous worlwide, the young punk turned into a dandy, specialized in artistic marketing, and what used to be uppercuts are now petty bourgeois’ provocations. He’s 48 years old, “too old to die young”, as the show’s title claims.

The atmosphere in Too Old to Die Young
is particularly gross.

Typically : he presented his last show, Too Old to Die Young, at Cannes’ festival this year, but he chose episodes 4 and 5 just to show off… At least that’s what we thought at first. Discovering the show starting in the middle turned out to be more disturbing than expected. And as the buzz didn’t last long, the feeling remains. The feeling that you’re floating in the middle of a void on a piece of fiction without beginning nor end. It’s about a hitman cop, Martin (Miles Teller), looking for salvation thanks to a millenarian vigilante, Viggo (John Hawkes). Post-film or proto-show? Does it matter no to know what we’re watching?

But what exactly are we watching?

The diffusion, in order, on Amazon Prime, will erase this sensation of being lost. But the value of images will remain the main topic of the show. In episode 5, a gloomy porn producer looking like a pastor with glasses, maybe Nicolas Winding Refn’s double, holds a smartphone to Martin, on which he watches a rape scene, that we are not able to see. The shadow of a doubt goes through Miles Tellers’ look: is what he’s looking at fiction or reality? Yes, the director says, it matters not to know what we’re watching.

Beyond the images’ ethics, Tood Old to Die Young‘s main topic seems to be Refn’s ambivalence towards violence/sex and the way he deals with these themes. If you wondered what NWR brand was about, it has to do with these topics, which are a common point in all his films. He shows he has an alarming inventiveness when it comes to imagine perverse scenes and the atmosphere in Too Old to Die Young is particularly grosse. Beyond the pleasure to watch blood and bodies, there’s also the temptation of a huge cleansing. Cleansing of a society condemned by human’s perversity and arrogance, but also cleansing of the director’s dirty subconscious.

All this turns Too Old to Die Young into a paradoxical show, esthetically amazing, but painful to watch anyway, for the ones who don’t really want to see a pervert giving free rein to his fantasies before he punishes himself right in front of us. Exalted by the photography of French Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, Se7en, Amour, Okja…), the show offers a series of pictures close to American hyperealistic painting, stretched by slow action and the silence of the seconds separating each line. But, as if he was stuck in his own head with his obessions, Refn never lets his emotions get in the way of his perfectly composed pictures. All the beauty in the world is worthless: without his feelings, NWR becomes the brand of boredom.

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