Only God Forgives
If you've suffered from being used incestuously by your mother as you became a young man, Ryan Gosling's character Julian shows what you might do in recompense. One, get away from your mother, like a long way away—Thailand's good. Two, find yourself in structures that seem as if a bunker and are labyrinthine, and where the wall patterns are like compact shelves of ancestors, or warding glyphs, scary to those who aren't used to them, and maybe even partially in your favor, so you couldn't possibly be unwillingly dragged away, and where any intimacies you might entertain within have the protection of carapace around yolk—they will have their time. Three, have boys around you about the same age you were when you were abused, and instead give them encouraging pats of support—from this, some good to others, as well as some assuagement of your own hurts. Four, re-explore relationships with women, but where if you're the one submitting, it's done very gently; and where for the most part you're just getting used to the idea that women, that sex, can be something under your control. Five, exist at a time when if your canny, resourceful, you-dwarfing and daunting, war-ready mother arrives back into your presence, masters you in your own den, your still-existing pliancy to her means you're the paltriest obstruction to a crusader supped on resources of a vast conservative landscape that has once again begun to stir: bent inwards to her, you hardly require scything, and can pretty much be just walked through as a righteous kill is staked.
You'll have to have something that would yoke her back to you, though. Her out of the picture altogether, means no chance for rapprochement, for adjusting or in some limited fashion mastering her, so you might know for a moment the self-assurance that would come from knowing you had it in you to finally insist on borders, as well as brokering for yourself a new kind of space you might use with other people. And possibly out of structures put in place to keep her more under your terms, sneak in for yourself a bit of the whole scale intimacy that boys hunt for from their mothers like dwarves through staunches of ore to gold. And Julian has this something with his older brother, Billy, the mother's favorite for being the eldest, the strongest, and for possessing a penis so large it draws awe, who for being the favorite when this means the inverse of what it normally does, seems incapable of immunizing himself to her ingrained influence to try something like genuine intimacy on, and is seemingly susceptible every night to having his need to dispense his sense of being a child-victim scale over into his becoming a perpetrator of butchery—inevitably involving someone young and hopeful, like his once-self was, attacked so thoroughly to form her own gross pond of parts and blood.
His succumbing to his drive to kill someone young and vulnerable, draws his mother, Crystal, back to Thailand, and when she arrives she stakes her claim on long-assumed territory, and garners her penthouse roof suite away from whatever hotel-precedent that would dissuade her temporarily from it. The flowers in the background are pink, and so too the limited, nervous, would-be-scene-abating receptionist's garb, but the place never really knew the color until she came in and showed them what it can do worn, when affixed to even a very tired, great lady. We have a sense that in each place she’s in subsequently, she feels so presumptive, so masterly, she might boast that she’s no longer sure she dressed to match the décor (which, you note, she always does) or whether it had taken antecedent notice of what she was in the mood for and made adjustments. Still, even with her feeling that her claim on this section of Thailand is broad and meaningfully unchallenged, Julian gets some of what he would hope to acquire from her. He’s had enough time with his girlfriend, the proud prostitute Mia, to feel he can square it against whatever mockery his mother might present against it, and gain the foothold of a mother having to realize her claim on her son is itself going to have to be adjusted—even, potentially, subjected to the harrowing sidelining of becoming secondary. This is all he could possibly get from her, though, as when Mia challenges him on why he lets himself be ridiculed by his mother, his response to her is simply fervor: staking any more than some presupposition against his mother requites him back into simply being her hardest defender.
But even as Crystal fits back into her Thailand operation, exhaling smoke as casually and confidently in her spacious hotel room as a dragon nestled in its adopted den, or admiring young men’s muscles like chops served before her, she has made a miss-step: as warned, the Thai climate is no longer one where cops can be killed, and the best move from her would have been to have spent less time repossessing and luxuriating, and more time reconciling and preparing. What has changed is ancestors and ancestral traditions, represent not so much something that is being dissipated as a country sways urban, but being recovered, having strength lent to it, as people once again are finding something most true about themselves as a race, in customs ostensibly unchanged for generations. The movie paints this as sanity, a slow return to decency—the ways of villages and country life are beginning to speak again. But it admires that what it at least as much is, is about a capacity for righteous revenge that whatever milieu it is slowly preparing itself to replace, would be stopped short by. You for sure like the cop in this film, Chang, the representative and embodiment of this renewed spirit, when he asks his daughter’s baby-sitter about what she prepared his daughter for dinner—he respects the sweet sitter, and he means his payment to feel well-earned, a tribute to her (it’s the movie that would have us contrast this payment with the exchange of money made at the beginning of the film, which was for drugs). But your admiration for his penchant to respect the often-overlooked but valuable is more than curbed, when proper payment for not seeing becomes the loss of your eyeballs, and for stubbornness, the loss of your life. For sure around him if we were comporting a colorful scarf, sunglasses, and carrying ’tude, we’d lose all such in a hurry: there are two that do this in this film, and neither ends up doing very well. Otherwise he’d grab whatever conventional tool in his near vicinity, and use it to instruct us on some respect—no doubt involving some permanent maiming. And as for his second in command, there’s lust in his eyes, craving: we feel it, and it’s repellent.
Chang slays Crystal for her egregious presumptions on an intrinsically modest people, and here is as sure in what he does as many Russians are becoming in their attitudes towards homosexuals, or British are becoming in their hard-line intolerance of porn, or Americans are becoming in their universal cheering-on of athletes having their careers cut off brutally for being exposed as cheaters. If he’s a god, I insist he’s a god to fear, not one to welcome into our lives as someone doing necessary cleansing, however sometimes hard to watch, as his executions are often performed before us, demanding our assent. But at least for Julian, his killing stroke to her neck stills her so he can do something indecent but which makes sense—putting his hand inside her womb, as the child in him nestles along maternal warmth, freed from complications, like incest, or envelopment. This is what he needed from his mother—close proximity, warmth, safety—and his cunning, intuitive, brash act here might even helped service a huge wound of his own. And it is true to what I think Chang actually represents that these hands which were ineffectual as weapons but effectual in obtaining compensation for a parent’s abandonment, may in the end have been severed from him. What really gets Chang’s goat, is what is at issue with any parent who would spank a child senseless: a child presumes.