|Fig. 1 'Only God Forgives' (2013)|
Chang expresses his disapproval to the father of a murdered underage prostitute for letting her sell herself. He then pushes the father to execute his daughter's murderer, Billy (Tom Burke) who is Julian's older brother. Chang then chops off the father's arms because he killed Billy. This contradiction makes the viewer question why Chang does what he does, "Is he an avenger who punishes people - for seeking revenge? He could be a Zen master whose lifelong vocation is payback against payback, and whose students graduate with the loss of a limb. He could be a kind of black hole, drawing violent people in, nullifying them, cauterising them," (Bradshaw, 2013).
Julian himself is a very odd and unappealing character. It's difficult to call him either a protagonist or an anti-hero, he is simply the 'main character' of this bizarre story. He barely reacts to anything around him, he's like a plank of wood or a slab of meat that just walks from room to room or stares into space. It is unclear if he is insane or not, as he walks down neon hallways seeing both Chang and his prostitute Mia (Rhatha Phongam). While it is obvious Chang is not actually there, it is more difficult to determine if Mia is there or if she too is just in Julian's imagination.
|Fig. 2 Julian in the Hallway|
However, once meeting Crystal it's slightly easier to understand why Julian is a bit off, "Crystal is played by Kristin Scott Thomas, and the words 'as you've never seen her before' scarcely do the role justice: watching her in Only God Forgives is like waking up to discover your much-loved pet cat has morphed overnight into a saltwater crocodile," (Collin, 2013). While at first her bitchy attitude is understandable due to her son's death it soon becomes clear that she isn't just like this when she is 'upset'. She is so corrupt and merciless that she tries to persuade multiple people, including Julian, to murder people to avenge Billy.
Crystal is blunt and unforgiving in her dialogue, which makes her a refreshing character to watch compared to Julian, but at times it can be a bit startling. One example is when she meets Mia and criticizes her profession as a prostitute then goes on to compare Julian to Billy in a very inappropriate and vulgar manner. She is one of the more entertaining characters, as long as you don't mind very colourful language. Through Crystal's relationship with her sons the films delves into the Oedipus Complex, further explaining why Julian is such an odd character.
It is believed that the main theme of 'Only God Forgives' is about the masculine crisis, that men fear incompetence. This is understandable considering the abuse Julian receives from his mother paired with his odd Oedipus-like relationship with her. The fear of not being good enough, although definitely not expressed by the emotions of the character is symbolised through Julian's hands/arms. He imagines Chang chopping off his hands and there are various camera shots focused on his hands/arms including a somewhat awkward scene where Crystal is seen gently touching Julian's arms. This symbolism can be easily lost especially if the viewer never heard of the film before.
|Fig. 3 Chang and Julian|
Arikan, A (2013) Only God Forgives At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/only-god-forgives-2013 Accessed on: 8/12/2015
Bradshaw, P. (2013) Only God Forgives - Review At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/01/only-god-forgives-review Accessed on: 8/12/2015
Collin, R. (2013) Only God Forgives, Review At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10073237/Only-God-Forgives-review.html Accessed on: 8/12/2015
Figure 1. Only God Forgives [Poster] At: http://www.heyuguys.com/images/2013/06/Only-God-Forgives-Character-Poster-Ryan-Gosling.jpg Accessed on: 8/12/2015
Figure 2. Julian in the Hallway [Film Still] At: https://geekycinephiles.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/only-god-forgives13-2.jpg Accessed on: 11/12/2015
Figure 3. Chang and Julian [Film Still] At: https://moviesandamic.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/only-god-forgives-forest.jpg Accessed on 11/12/2015