I didn’t hate it.
I was prepared to hate it! I was prepared for 90 minutes of men comparing dick sizes and chopping each other up with samurai swords like a humorless Kill Bill. But in actuality, Only God Forgives has more in common with Last Year at Marienbad than Tarantino and the only one comparing cocks is Kristin Scott Thomas as Ryan Gosling’s deranged mother, telling his hired girlfriend that his dick was never as big as his now-dead brother’s. (This is also part of the already infamous scene in which Thomas, all hoity-toity mannerisms scraped away, asks the girl, “How many cocks can you entertain in your cute little cum dumpster?” in the same tone of voice one uses to ask for the salt.)
Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t care if you understand his movie. He doesn’t care if you’re bored or confused or ashamed that the violence is weirdly sexy. He’s gone on the record as saying that violence has sex appeal for him and it’s not hard to see that in the film, where Gosling watches a woman masturbate and then imagines a man slicing his arm off. Or a crowd of demure prostitutes sitting with their eyes closed as a police officer tortures a drug dealer, patiently waiting to be told by a man that they can come back to life.
There is almost no plot to the film, so one’s enjoyment is in direct proportion to how willing one is to sit back and wallow in style over substance. The characters are cardboard cutouts, but the movie is so visually sumptuous it’s almost tactile. And there is a lot of testosterone, granted, but it’s all stylish, sly testosterone, sending itself up and serving as kindling for Thomas’ performance. You probably won’t know what the hell you’re seeing, but you don’t mind staring.