Today, we are going to explain a horror, thriller film depicting how obsession for beauty and perfection can pull young women into darkness called, “The Neon Demon.”
The neon lights allure many down the path of corruption. Beauty and glamour blind some people to narcissism, betrayals, and even sadistic actions.
In this film, we see different kinds of corrupted views of beauty and how many of the characters disregard others for the sake of staying in the spotlight.
Their cutthroat world of fashion where beauty is a fleeting thing pushes many into desperate acts in a mad attempt for the top spot.
The Neon Demon: Introduction
We start with our young protagonist, whose beauty captivates many, including the demons that lurk under the glamorous lights. At a photo shoot, sixteen-year-old Jesse poses as if she’s been murdered.
While cleaning off the fake blood, she meets makeup artist Ruby, who welcomes her to Los Angeles. Jesse recently moved into the city after her parent’s death, making Ruby take pity on her and invite her to a party.
At the party, Jesse feels out of place and sticks to Ruby at first. Here she meets models Sarah and Gigi. The three older women are attracted to Jesse’s natural beauty and are intrigued over her intimate secrets, which makes the younger girl uncomfortable.
Cornered, Jesse claims to have experiences with men. She joins the women to watch a surreal show where Jesse relaxes, entranced by the strange performance and unaware that the three women are watching her curiously.
Beginning of Lies
The next day, Jesse applies to a modeling agency to pursue a career. The owner, Roberta Hoffman, sees potential in her and promises Jesse the opportunity to work with top fashion designers.
The only problem is Jesse’s too young and needs a parental consent form to start her career. Roberta instructs her to lie about her age to others and say she’s 19. This isn’t the only lie Jesse will be telling, as she forges the signature on the consent form later that day.
The dazzling allure of the modeling career already sinks its talons on the innocent Jesse. At the young age of 16, she’s already thrust into the cutthroat world and immediately uses deception as a chance for the spotlight.
So soon in the movie, we see Jesse getting blinded by the chance at stardom and decides to forge her parents’ signature and lie about her age.
Truth be told, many of us may make or have already made similar choices at the chance of getting what we desire. But Jesse is a minor and she may not have thought things through, which could put her at a risk in the future.
Afterward, Jesse meets with Dean, the amateur photographer who did her first shoot the previous day. They drive to a cliff overlooking Los Angeles, where Jesse admires the freedom the city offers her, while Dean admires her.
Jesse reminisces about her childhood in Georgia, where she wondered who she would become. She struggled to find what she was good at but realized that she can make a career out of her beauty, thus her decision to become a model.
When Dean drops her off at her apartment building, he leans in to kiss her, but Jesse backs away. However, they share a tender moment under the full moon, leading Jesse to ask him out again.
After Dean leaves, Jesse opens her room and finds something moving in the shadows. Scared, Jesse runs to the office of the motel owner, Hank, who calls Mikey to check who’s in her room.
Mikey kicks the door open where they find the room in ruins. Hank aggressively accuses Jesse of making the mess until they discover a cougar in Jesse’s room.
The First Photo Shoot
Days later, Jesse arrives at a photo shoot with the notable photographer Roberta referred her to, Jack McCarther. Ruby is her makeup artist at this shoot, making Jesse feel more comfortable about the new experience.
While doing her makeup, Ruby looks at Jesse fondly. Jack is also curious about Jesse, staring at her as if she was a painting. He dismisses everyone else from the studio and instructs Jesse to remove her clothes.
Hesitant and nervous, Jesse does as she’s told. Jack smears gold paint all over her body before beginning the photo shoot. As the shoot starts, Jesse’s nervousness turns into confidence.
Her first professional photo shoot is already a sign of how the fashion industry can abuse her. Jesse is still a minor, but because she lied about her age, the photographer decides to do a nude photo shoot with her.
Instead of the human being that she is, Jack regards her as if she’s a work of art, enthralled by her beauty. Without asking her consent, he instructs her to remove her clothes and lathers gold paint on her body with his bare hands.
Still, Jesse takes his actions as a promise of more opportunities for her career instead of a violation of her body. So, she doesn’t complain and even gains confidence that someone used her as a canvas to make their masterpiece.
The photo shoot is a success, with Jack promising that he’ll consider her photos for an editorial, exciting the young model. However, Ruby tells her not to keep her hopes up and even advises Jesse against working alone with Jack.
Jesse smiles and tells her new friend that she’s not as helpless as she looks. Ruby offers to help Jesse no matter what, endearing herself to the teenage girl. Later that day, Ruby meets with Sarah and Gigi and tells the other two about Jesse’s shoot.
Jealousy of Beauty
Sarah is unhappy with Jesse getting attention so quickly, seeing her and all the other younger models as a threat to them, who are more experienced but getting older. Sarah and Gigi are experienced models, but their experience comes with their age, which threatens them from being removed from the spotlight.
Through them, we see how ruthless their world is. Sarah and Gigi have done their work and made sacrifices for their career, yet their fleeting beauty could quickly trigger their downfalls.
Instead of being happy for the newbie, they’re jealous of how fast Jesse is gaining attention. This shows how such a competitive world sparks more aggression rather than camaraderie.
One day, Jesse attends a casting call where Sarah is also auditioning. The designer, Robert Sarno, ignores Sarah but is captivated by Jesse despite her lack of experience.
Sarno immediately approves Jesse for his fashion show, frustrating Sarah. The distraught older model hides in the ladies’ bathroom and throws a trash can against the mirror, angered by how her career is plummeting.
Jesse hears the crash and finds Sarah smoking, with her portfolio torn and littered on the floor among the shards from the broken mirror. Knowing why she lashed out, Jesse tries to comfort Sarah, which the latter refuses.
Instead, Sarah asks Jesse how it feels to be the center of everyone’s attention, to which Jesse admits it’s everything she wanted. Jealous, Sarah lunges forward at Jesse, making her flinch away.
Jesse accidentally wounds her hand with a glass shard, and Sarah licks the blood from her hand. Jesse panics and runs out.
Immediately after Sarah shares her worries about being replaced by younger models, it happens to her. Her previous success doesn’t spare her from getting ignored, but the young and beautiful Jesse is accepted without another moment’s thought.
Reaction of Jealousy
Seeing her struggle, almost tugs into the audiences’ sympathy. Many of us have experienced similar challenges before when another person swiftly takes what we want despite all the hard work we’ve put in to achieve our goals.
But this sympathy is completely undone when she attacks Jesse and tastes her blood. Whatever she may have thought she’d gain from her actions, Sarah represents another kind of danger that Jesse’s pursuits would attract.
Jesse goes home but waits for Hank to return to his office before heading up to her room. She cleans the wound on her hand but screams in pain when she pours antiseptic on it.
Dean arrives at her door, holding flowers, but Jesse passes out upon touching his gift. While unconscious, Jesse sees images of triangles and hands reaching out from her wall.
She wakes up and holds onto Dean for comfort. Dean confronts Hank about him forcing Jesse to pay for the damages the cougar caused in her room.
Hank is adamant about charging Jesse and tricks Dean into paying him. He suggests that Dean makes sure he gets something out of helping Jesse, and if he doesn’t, he tempts Dean with the thirteen-year-old runaway living next door to Jesse.
Dean is horrified at the man’s suggestions and leaves. Jesse is lucky to have Dean at her side. While others are distracted by her beauty, Dean seems to genuinely care for her.
This is in contrast with Hank, whose words to Dean imply that he views beauty as a treat to be taken advantage of.
Despite knowing Jesse and her neighbor’s tender ages, he is driven by physical desires and even encourages Dean, a man he doesn’t know, to do the same.
Hank represents the kind of person who threatens many, both men and women. To him, the pretty girls living in his motel are just objects of desire.
The Show Begins
At Sarno’s fashion show, Gigi is surprised to see Jesse there. Gigi asserts her dominance over Jesse by making the latter move from her chair and flaunting how Gigi didn’t have to audition for the show and was invited.
This doesn’t discourage Jesse, however, as she is chosen to close the show. Just before walking to the runway, Jesse breathes deeply to calm her nerves.
She closes her eyes and focuses on the lights, hallucinating the triangles she saw when she fainted. Jesse, then, hallucinates an image of herself, looking more confident and fierce.
The other, more confident Jesse is enticed by her reflection and kisses the mirrors. The images give Jesse confidence as she walks down the runway.
After the show, Jesse and Dean join Sarno and the others for dinner. But Gigi suggests there isn’t room for them, making Jesse and Dean sit at another table.
Gigi flatters Sarno to maintain her connection with him. But when Sarno belittles beauty achieved through cosmetic surgery, she’s taken aback.
Sarno compares Gigi, who is open about her many cosmetic surgeries, to Jesse, who he believes is an example of true beauty. No matter what our views are on cosmetic surgeries, Gigi did not deserve Sarno humiliating her in front of her peers.
To be compared to a younger model and being called “manufactured beauty” is a direct attack on Gigi as a person. But Sarno doesn’t consider this.
A Perspective about Models
The models are nothing but pretty frames to showcase his artwork on. Being a top fashion designer, Sarno has lived as if he can say such things without repercussions.
After all, Gigi wouldn’t defend herself and risk damaging her relationship with her client. Instead, she would hold a grudge against Jesse, who’s also another victim of Sarno’s objectification.
Hearing his views, Dean questions Sarno’s opinion and decides to leave the restaurant. But when he asks Jesse to leave with him, she coldly tells him to leave by himself. Jesse’s persona has changed with her newfound confidence.
Later that evening, Dean waits for Jesse at her motel building. Disappointed in her recent actions, Dean asks if Jesse wants to be like Sarno and the rest. Instead, Jesse believes that they want to be like her.
Jesse walks past Dean, disregarding his concerns for her. She heads to her room and throws away the flowers Dean gave her the other day.
Outside, Dean leaves just as Hank exits his office. While Jesse relaxes on her bed, someone approaches her door and unlocks it. Hank enters, finding her asleep.
In the dark, he gazes upon her body and pulls out a switch knife. Slowly, he places the blade between her lips. Jesse wakes up with the knife in her mouth.
Hank pushes it in further, forcing her to swallow. Jesse wakes from the nightmare in tears. Suddenly, her doorknob rattles; someone is trying to get in. Jesse lunges forward and locks it.
Soon, the rattling stops, and she listens to whoever’s outside walk down the hallway. Jesse relaxes, believing that she’s safe. But instead, the door to the room next to hers is forcibly opened.
A young woman screams, and Jesse listens to her neighbor get attacked. Jesse shakes in fear as the horrible crime unfolds just a wall away from her, knowing how she could have been the victim.
This is a truly terrifying scenario for anyone. Even though Jesse is spared from the attack, she’s mere inches away from the crime unfolding to the younger girl living next door.
This crime is another way of how beauty is taken advantage of. Whoever is doing the act, their attraction to the young girls is more important to them than the girls’ lives.
The right thing to do in this situation is to call the police for help and pray that they arrive on time to save the girl. But in such a terrifying scenario, none of us could truly tell what we’d do. So instead of calling for help, Jesse is frozen in fear, listening to what could have happened to her if she didn’t wake up in time.
Scared, Jesse calls Ruby, who invites her to her house, promising safety. In Ruby’s home, Jesse takes a shower while Ruby puts on makeup.
She then brings Jesse some supplies just after the latter got out of the shower. While Jesse changes clothes, Ruby shares that she’s merely house-sitting for someone.
Ruby invites Jesse to bed to brush her hair. After doing so, Ruby admires her beauty and starts touching Jesse suggestively, but Jesse rejects her advances. Jesse confesses that she lied about having previous intimate experiences, but this encourages Ruby further.
She tackles Jesse to bed and tries to make love with her until Jesse pushes Ruby off the bed. Ruby finally leaves Jesse and draws something on the mirror using lipstick.
Ruby may not have been truly interested in befriending Jesse. Instead, like many others, she only wants the young girl for her beauty. Ruby’s attraction to Jesse fuels her to deceive the girl to get what she wants, but Jesse fights back and rejects her advances.
Unfortunately, Ruby’s actions are not uncommon. Many friendships have been fabricated in order to get what the deceiver wants; may it be romantic endeavors, opportunities to get ahead, among other things.
These actions are taken without considering the other person’s well-being. Yet again, Jesse is nothing but an object of desire, this time as seen by someone she thought was her friend.
After resting, Jesse wakes up and finds a dress left for her in the room. She walks around the house, searching for Ruby, but she’s nowhere. Instead, she finds Ruby’s drawing of a dead face in the mirror and a stuffed cheetah.
At the funeral home, Ruby is doing makeup on a female corpse when her loneliness strikes. She locks the door and removes the cloth over the corpse’s body.
While picturing Jesse, Ruby touches the dead body and pleasures herself with it. Back at the house, Jesse experiments with makeup in the bathroom. Once she’s done, she finds another dress laid out for her on the bed.
She wears the dress and admires herself in front of the mirror before heading out to the empty pool. Jesse stands on the edge of the diving board when Ruby returns.
Jesse’s confidence turns into complete narcissism as she dreamily describes how other women struggle to gain what she naturally has. Jesse reminisces how her mother called her beauty dangerous and Jesse has accepted this. Ruby smiles at her words.
At this point, Jesse has completely shed the innocent persona and accepts how her beauty entices everyone around her. Secretly, Jesse has always known that her beauty is something she can exploit.
Witnessing how effective it is in distracting others, from Jack’s and Sarno’s admiration to Ruby’s affections, Jesse has finally embraced the power of beauty and sees herself as above other women.
What she doesn’t realize is such power also tempts others who wish to steal it. Her natural beauty that rewards her with fame and fortune could also be the cause of her downfall.
Life in Danger
Jesse goes back inside the house where Gigi and Sarah attack her. Her surreal mood is shattered now that her life is in danger. The teenage model grabs a knife but Gigi and Sarah do the same.
They chased her down and back outside, where Ruby waits for her, also carrying a knife. Cornered by the three women, Jesse backs away until Ruby pushes her into the empty pool.
Broken and lying on her own puddle of blood, Jesse watches the stars, knowing that there’s no escape. Hours later, Ruby wakes up in a bloody bathtub.
Gigi and Sarah shower nearby also covered in Jesse’s blood. The image of Ruby in the tub full of blood is reminiscent of the most notorious female serial killer in history, Elizabeth Bathory.
Legends imply that Bathory bathed in the blood of young maidens to retain her youth and beauty. These legends could be the inspiration for the three women’s crimes.
The models whose youth and beauty are tested by the passage of time bathe in Jesse’s blood, hoping to absorb her youthful charms. Their actions are an extreme example of what a person can do to stay at the center of attention.
The next day, Ruby is watering the plants without a shirt on, revealing her body covered in occult tattoos. She then rests in an unmarked grave in the garden while she smokes.
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That evening, Ruby lies naked in the house, bathing under the moonlight as blood gushes out of her body. Days later, Gigi and Sarah head for a photo shoot near the ocean.
While waiting, Sarah chuckles at another girl’s story of her friend who was desperate to get back into the modeling world. When the girl, Annie, asks what she did to someone who replaced her from a job, Sarah casually admits that she ate the other woman.
Annie thinks it’s just a joke, but Gigi stares at her worriedly, scared of their secrets being revealed. With Gigi and Annie dressed up for the shoot, Jack studies them but looks unsatisfied.
He catches a glimpse of Sarah and invites her to the shoot, firing Annie in the process. Sarah smiles as she has just stolen the younger model’s job.
During the photo shoot, Gigi starts feeling unwell. Jack orders her to focus on the camera, but Gigi’s condition worsens as she stares at the pool. Sarah is proud that their crime against Jesse worked, as shown by her triumphant smile upon stealing the job from Annie.
This shows how Sarah is truly blinded by the limelight and cares little about what happens to her competition.
Gigi, on the other hand, feels guilt. The pool in front of her is a reminder of what she did to Jesse in that empty pool in Ruby’s house.
The guilt makes her physically ill, and yet, instead of helping her, Jack and the others are merely annoyed by her condition interrupting their job. The models’ feelings and well-being are nothing to them.
Gigi leaves and undresses in the dressing area. She struggles in pain and discomfort while the others are just waiting for her to return to the shoot.
None of them even shows concern for Gigi or offers to help. Finally, Sarah checks on her and sees her vomit out a bloody eyeball. Gigi cries, saying, “I need to get her out of me.”
She grabs a pair of scissors and stabs herself with them. Sarah watches her friend die but doesn’t do anything to help. Instead, she picks up the eyeball and eats it. A single tear falls down her cheek before she heads back to the shoot. Not even a friend’s death can stop the show for Sarah.
Jesse was fortunate to have the ideal beauty that everyone covets but unfortunate to have met the three women who will stop at nothing to gain what she has.
Ruby, Gigi, and Sarah had their eyes set on Jesse from the moment they met her, but couldn’t do anything to her at first after Jesse lied about her sensual experiences.
Similar to Elizabeth Bathory, they needed a maiden for their ritualistic sacrifice to maintain their youth and beauty. So when Jesse confesses that she lied after rejecting Ruby’s advances, she unknowingly sealed her fate.
The Neon Demon: The Overview
The Neon Demon portrays how people can be corrupted by beauty and fame. We see different kinds of this corruption with most of the characters.
Sarno and Jack are renowned in their respective fields and view the beautiful women they work with as objects they can use to create art. Neither of them showed concern for Gigi when she’s humiliated by Sarno’s words or when she feels ill during Jack’s photo shoot.
Hank and Ruby are people tempted by beauty and disregard their objects of affections’ agency. Gigi sees beauty as something she can cheat by going under the knife as many times as she needs.
Sarah once had the beauty that many crave for, but time doesn’t agree with her and her beauty fades away.
In the sea of corrupted characters, Dean is the only one who seemed to have a grasp at morality. He is attracted to Jesse’s beauty, but genuinely cares about her when he gets to know her better. He even defends Gigi, a person he hardly knows, when she’s objectified and compared to Jesse.
Unfortunately, his moral views of beauty don’t fit in their ambitious world, and he’s left sidelined by everyone, including Jesse. Jesse is the film’s example of ideal beauty.
In the beginning, she starts as a fish-out-of-water who’s new to both the city and the modeling world. But during her first runway show, she hallucinates a triangular symbol and images of herself.
The symbol may represent the competitive hierarchy in their industry, with three triangles pointing down and one at the center pointing up.
This may be symbolizing the three other women and their slow downfall in the industry while everyone’s center of attention, Jesse, rises to the top. The hallucinations of another Jesse kissing her own reflection symbolize Jesse embracing the power of her beauty, much like how in Greek mythology, Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection.
The runway scene depicts Jesse’s transformation from the doe-eyed aspiring model to the ambitious, confident, albeit narcissistic woman she chose to be.
She exploits her own charms and allows others to do the same, as long as it helps her achieve her goals. Like the other models in the film, she allows the industry to abuse her for her own personal gains. But her beauty also attracts the spite of others and puts the target on her back, making her rise to fame as quickly as it is short.
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