The Neon Demon Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The Neon Demon (2016): the meaning of the movie, plot summary, similar movies.

Triangle, mirrors, mortuary and other frightening symbols of the film The Neon Demon.

Country: USA, Denmark, France, Belgium

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Arthouse

Year of production: 2016

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Keanu Reeves

tagline: The wicked die young

Awards and Nominations: 2016 Cannes Film Festival Award to Cliff Martinez for Best Composer, Palme d’Or and Queer Palm nominations.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has earned recognition largely due to his impeccable visual style. And in the picture The Neon Demon, he seems to have decided to focus on him. After all, the plot turned out to be provocative and creepy, but quite simple – many viewers and critics noticed that in order to convey the main idea, one could limit oneself to a short film. Let’s analyze the meaning of the film The Neon Demon and how its visual component works.

What is the movie about

At the beginning we see a girl – she lies in a spectacular pose on the couch in the blood. It turns out that this is a photo session of the beginning sixteen-year-old model Jessie. She recently arrived in Los Angeles to become a real star in the beauty industry. In the room with mirrors, Jesse washes away the fake blood.

Elle FanningElle Fanning played the role of Jessie. Frame from the film.

She is admired by a girl named Ruby, who works as a makeup artist. She invites the heroine to a party where she meets other models – Gigi and Sarah. The conversation doesn’t stick. The new girl behaves stiffly, and experienced representatives of the modeling business talk about makeup. Ruby says that cosmetics with a name that refers to food or sex sell better and asks Jessie what she would call her lipstick. She finds it difficult to answer. Then Ruby asks, “Are you food or are you sex?” Gigi and Sarah say that Jessie is dessert. Girls clearly admire and envy the beauty of the newcomer. Everyone goes to watch the show. We see the characters’ faces illuminated in red and then blue.

At the interview, the director of the modeling agency tells Jessie that she is not like the others, she is gorgeous and she is waiting for worldwide success. However, the photos taken by Dean (the guy she met on the Internet a day ago) are no good. And in general, with dating in Los Angeles, you should be more careful. The director sends Jesse for a test shoot with local model photographer Jack MacArthur.

In the evening, Jesse and Dean drive up a mountain overlooking Los Angeles. The girl tells the guy how, as a child, she imagined that the moon was a big eye. She climbed onto the roof and asked: “Do you see me?”, fell asleep in dreams about who she wants to become. Even then, Jessie understood: she didn’t have any special talents, but she was pretty and you could earn money with this. The guy says he believes in her. Taking the girl to the motel, Dean points to the sky – the moon is shining brightly there.

Trying to enter his room 212, Jesse discovers that someone is there and asks security guard Hank to look into it. It turns out that a wild animal, Puma, has snuck into the room.

At the photo shoot, Jack McArthur centers Jessie in front of a white background and evaluates her, then sends the studio staff home to be alone with the model. He asks the girl to undress, after which he turns off the main lighting and in the semi-darkness applies gold paint to her body.

Karl GlusmanThe role of Dean was played by Karl Glusman. Frame from the film.

Ruby talks to model friends about Jessie. Sarah says that new to the modeling business is fresh meat, but, for example, Gigi is sour milk. Everyone admits that in Jesse, in addition to youth and harmony, there is something else special.

There’s a casting going on. Roberto Sorno, conducting the selection, ignores Sarah, but notices and clearly admires Jesse. In the bathroom, Sarah breaks the mirror in a rage. The heroine tries to console her colleague, but she makes a lunge in her direction. A shard bites into Jesse’s hand. Sarah takes it and tries to drink the girl’s blood.

We learn that Ruby doesn’t just do makeup for models. She also works at the morgue, putting makeup on the faces of corpses.

Jessie sneaks into her motel room without being seen by Hank and tries to treat her wound. Dean knocks on the door and gives the girl flowers. That exhausted one falls with a bouquet on the bed. The image of three blue triangles, collected in one, turned down, and a red triangle, turned up, flickers. Dean pays Hank for Jesse’s debt. The guard advises him to look into room 214, where a thirteen-year-old refugee lives, “a real Lolita.”

Jessie attends a fashion show. Before going to the catwalk, she meets Gigi. She tells the newcomer how many operations she had to do to look beautiful. Jesse enters the podium in the rays of blue and again sees the blue triangle. She herself is also in the design in the form of a blue triangle, which, reflected from the floor, forms a rhombus. Jesse walks down the catwalk and sees herself in the reflections. Everything around is lit up in red. Jessie admires herself and kisses mirrors.

Jenna MaloneJena Malone starred as Ruby. Frame from the film.

In a restaurant, Roberto Sorno is talking to his assistant and Gigi. Jessie and Dean join them. Roberto calls the heroine a diamond in a sea of ​​glass, claims that real beauty cannot be faked – you can only be born with it. Dean also believes that the inner world of a person is more important than his external beauty. Roberto objects, he is sure: if the girl were not beautiful in appearance, the guy would not even look at her. Dean invites Jessie to leave the restaurant with him, but she prefers to stay with her colleagues. Later, the guy meets the heroine at the motel. He asks in disappointment if the girl really wants to be like “them”, meaning the interlocutors in the restaurant. Jesse replies, “They want to be like me.”

The heroine goes to number one. There, Jessie has a terrible dream in which Hank enters the room and puts a knife in her mouth. Waking up, the girl discovers that someone outside is still trying to get into the room. She locks the door and listens with horror as the villain tortures and kills her neighbor behind the wall. Jessie calls Ruby. She offers to come to her, which the heroine does.

Jessie ends up in a big house that Ruby looks after. A friend tries to have sex with a guest, but she pushes her away. Jessie confesses that she is a virgin. Ruby makes another attempt, once again meeting resistance. The rejected girl draws an ominous face with cross-eyes on the mirror and goes to the morgue, where, imagining Jesse’s corpse, she masturbates.

Jesse puts on her make-up, tries on an outfit, and walks to the empty pool. Returning Ruby finds the girl standing over him on the edge of the board. Jessie says that her mother called her a dangerous girl. And now she realizes that she is really dangerous. Many want to be like her, to become at least a second-rate copy of her and torture themselves with diets and operations.

Bella HeathcoteThe role of Gigi was played by Bella Heathcote. Frame from the film.

Jessie leaves for the house, where she is attacked by Gigi and Sarah. They push the girl back to the pool, where Ruby pushes her. Before dying, Jesse sees a triangle of stars in the sky.

Ruby bathes in Jessie’s blood while Gigi and Sara wash it off in the shower

In the morning, Ruby washes the blood off the pool. On her half-naked body, we see a tattoo with the wings of a fallen angel. Ruby then lays down in a dug grave surrounded by flowers. In the evening she stares naked at the moon and lies on her back. Blood-like fluid flows from her spread legs onto the floor. Ruby smiles.

The girls go to the next shoot. Sarah is talking to another model named Annie. She asks if her job was taken away from her and what she did with it. Sarah replies, “I ate it.”

Jack MacArthur photographs Gigi and Annie. Suddenly, he fires the latter, replacing her with Sarah. Filming takes place near a pool filled with water. Gigi suddenly becomes ill, and she leaves. Sarah finds her friend in tears and trying to induce vomiting. Gigi burps Jessie’s eye and says she has to get her out of her. After that, the girl rips open her stomach and dies. Then Sarah swallows the eye and returns to the set.

Under the credits, Sarah walks through the desert.

The meaning of the film The Neon Demon

So, guided by the description of the plot, let’s analyze the content and meaning of individual scenes and the film The Neon Demon as a whole.

At the very beginning of the picture, the director already gives a direct hint of what the final will be – it is no coincidence that Jesse depicts a corpse. Here we immediately see the two main colors that will be constantly shown in the film – blue and red (Jessie has a blue dress, red fake blood on her body, red neon light behind). Even in his previous painting “Only God Forgives,” Nicolas Winding Refn used the first as a symbol of the divine, and the second – the animal principle. In The Neon Demon the meaning of these colors is similar: blue symbolizes water as an image of purity and innocence, red – fire as an image of temptation and vice.

The first person to speak to the heroine in the film is Ruby. This name translates as “Ruby”, which in turn sounds like “Red” in Latin. Jessie Roberto Sorno would later call a diamond among glass. For diamonds, the main indicator of quality is clarity, the best of them are called pure water diamonds. Thus, the interaction between Jessie and Ruby is a confrontation between water and fire, purity and vice.

Further at the club, Ruby asks Jessie if she is food or sex. It seems that in the soulless world into which the heroine has fallen, there is no other choice. And indeed, in the end, refusing to lose her innocence, she literally becomes food – her competitors eat her, enjoying it like a dessert. A little earlier, Sarah called Jessie fresh meat, which she eventually became.

Jessie tells Dean about the moon, which she imagined watching her as a child. In the end, all that remains of the girl is her eye. And after the act of cannibalism, Ruby lies in bliss under the moon and blood flows from her, probably belonging to Jesse. What’s the point in all this? Although in mythology the moon is mainly associated with death and the dark beginning, it still reflects sunlight and can be perceived as something bright in the surrounding darkness of the night.

flowers for jessieElle Fanning as Jesse. Frame from the film.

In fact, this is the only real, natural, light source as opposed to the artificial neon of Los Angeles. This is what Jessie could still survive and save herself in this soulless world of modeling. Dean saw that light in the girl and believed in her. However, Jessie chose to surrender to the darkness. As a result, only flesh and blood remained from her, which became a source of strength for competitors. The moon became a reminder of the desired sacrifice for Ruby.

The room the heroine lives in also seems to be a reference to her unfortunate end. “212” – as if a beginner, one, stands among more experienced, twos. Or there may be such an interpretation: a person is surrounded by snakes.

The cougar that burst into Jesse’s room is the literal embodiment of impending danger and the animal nature.

At the photo shoot, Jack MacArthur applies gold paint to Jessie’s body, as if initiating her in this world of glitz and glamour. From that moment on, the heroine begins her solemn ascent to the fashionable Olympus. Even in this scene, there is a sharp change from bright white light to all-consuming darkness.

Another initiation of Jessie is a mirror shard wound, after which Sarah tries to drink her blood. In general, mirrors in The Neon Demon play a big role. They reflect the outer beauty that everyone in this world fights so hard for. Mirrors are present in the film from the very first scene. As Ruby and Jessie get to know each other, they endlessly mirror each other. Being on the podium, the heroine kisses her reflection. This also reveals the theme of narcissism, narcissism.

heroine on the podiumFrame from the film.

After the initiations, Jesse sees triangles – downward blue and upward red. In various religions, triangles are a symbol of the divine, sacred. In ancient times, a downward-facing triangle also meant the feminine. Thus, we see a female, divine symbol, which then transforms into a demonic, fiery one. The transformation takes place not only in Jessie’s vision, but also later on the catwalk. There we also see a rhombus, consisting of triangles, which in many philosophical and religious movements also symbolizes innocence. And it also turns red, turning into a symbol of vice.

After the transformation on the podium, Jessie begins to behave differently, to match her competitors. The explanation for this: it takes into itself a vicious, demonic essence. Dean, who valued inner beauty in a girl first of all, is no longer needed.

The light no longer saves Jessie, and she is left alone with the darkness. Predators immediately appear from there: first in the form of Hank in a dream, then in the form of a maniac killing a girl behind a wall, then in the form of Ruby and cannibal models. By the way, there is a curious detail in the scene of the attack in the motel: we do not know the attacker, we do not know who tormented the refugee in the next room, whether it was in reality – the director does not give clues. Maybe it was Hank. But it is possible that the darkness that Jessie took turned into a predator and Dean. After all, he also knew about the neighbor. And the director of the agency hinted at the danger of dating people like him. And after the scary scene at the motel, they don’t show it to us anymore.

An interesting detail about Ruby: apparently, the girl commits murder not for the first time. The house does not belong to her, but she quietly uses it. Flowers grow around the freshly dug grave, which, as it were, hints at corpses buried nearby, perhaps of the same beauties.

room in the houseFrame from the film.

Ruby’s work in the morgue is a direct indication of the dead world of the modeling business. The girl doesn’t care if she’s dealing with a corpse or a living model – everyone here is dead. The living Ruby and people like her strive to turn it into a dead one at all costs, which happened to Jesse. This is, in fact, the essence of the film. Although, if desired, after analyzing, you can find many more hidden meanings, because the authors of the Neon Demon did a great job on the visual component and symbolism.

By the way, who is this neon demon? Starring Elle Fanning believes that this is Los Angeles – a city that glows with thousands of neon lights and strives to take another innocent soul to itself. This is probably true – it is unlikely that the director tried to present a specific character as a demon, because the film is about the dark side of the whole industry.

The Neon Demon Ending explanation

So, the meaning of the ending of the film The Neon Demon is as follows: the heroine went towards vice, voluntarily deprived herself of light and surrendered herself to darkness, which swallowed her up. The living inner beauty was replaced by a dead outer one. A complete transition to a new, predatory world deprived the heroine of her soul and life. Competitors will be able to use its power for their own purposes for some time. However, not everyone can withstand such a burden. So, Gigi was weak, Sarah was stronger. But the latter will be only a pale copy of Jesse for some time, until the ruthless modeling business will deal with her. Such an explanation of the ending, like the film itself, should hardly be taken literally – all this is rather a big metaphor for the obsession with external beauty and a call to appreciate the real and really beautiful.

Similar films

  • Black Swan (USA, 2010): a paranoid thriller about a ballet prima;
  • Under the Skin (UK, Switzerland, 2013): surreal fiction about an alien female entity that hunts for men;
  • Suspiria (Italy, 1977): Dario Argento’s “Italian Hitchcock” horror classic about a young ballerina who comes to study at a ballet school;
  • Showgirls (France, USA, 1995): a dancer conquers Las Vegas, plunging into a world of betrayal and intrigue;
  • Last Night in Soho (UK, China, 2021): a stylish retro-horror about a young provincial who came to study in modern London and found herself in her favorite era of the sixties.

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