• Nicolas Winding Refn’s new Amazon series, Too Old to Die Young, was released last week.
• The 13-hour series features an array of violence, much in reference to the current social/political moment.
• Despite its almost-trolling pacing, the series is worth (at least some of) your time.
So, I’m just gonna tell you how Amazon’s Too Old to Die Young ends, because, well: (1) you probably won’t make it through all 13 masturbatory, neon-splashing art house hours — and there’s no shame in quitting; (2) it’s structured such that you can pretty much watch any episode (and any scene) in any order, and so the “ending” isn’t so much an ending as a scene that just so happens to come last; and (3) the title pretty much spoils it anyway. So here we go …
Yaritza (Cristina Rodlo), a tarot-card-dealing, leather-jacket-wearing sicario and first horsewoman of the apocalypse, walks into a cantina, orders two shots of tequila, saunters over to the prostitutes in the back, asking one to perform a song titled “The High Priestess of Death,” a peasant’s fable of an evil-men-killing deity, stands facing the all-male cantina congregation, walks towards the door—oh, wait—turns, guns down every single man in the room, and then walks out. Roll credits: directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
That same Nicolas Winding Refn spoke to Men’s Health last week about the show and why. Why there’s so much violence. Why some people are probably going to be offended by it — and hate it (the series currently has a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, the perfect polarizing score). And why he made the series in the first place. Refn is evasive when discussing artistic intent. He prefers to leave judgements up to the viewer. But he did talk about his general ambitions. “We need to be afraid of creativity,” Refn said. “We need to be inspired by creativity. We need to love it and hate it. But we need some to understand that we have to embrace the Odyssey.”
Too Old to Die Young’s odyssey tracks several characters spread between California and Mexico. Most of these characters are killers or leaders of killers. Most of these killers kill other killers. Most of those killed killers are men. Most of those killed killer men are men who deserve to be killed. Most men, in the end, are killed. (There’s a lot of killing.)
Generally, the killings are sexually motivated, and though we never witness the inciting crimes, the viewer is made to understand them as “unforgivable.” As one of several monologued moments makes clear: “Do not love your enemies. It is God’s will that you bring them violence to smite them. This is god’s law: to drive your enemies into the sea and sew the earth with their blood and tears.” (It’s not a very happy show. But it can be extraordinarily funny — in a very dark and very, very specific blood and earth-sewing way).
At its most coherent, the series might be deconstructed as a kind of cathartic #MeToo revenge thriller where rapists, perverts, Nazis, and certain political leader stand-ins, are mercilessly knifed, choked, and shot in the penises. And at its least coherent it’s … well, it’s basically the same thing: rapists, nazis, knives, guns, penises, etc. There’s also a lot of talk about a coming apocalypse. And scenes involving whips — in all their uses.
Yet, for the extraordinary amount of violence, we never get to see the apocalypse, and most of the series stands still and silent. We wait.
Refn clearly wants viewers to slow down. He favors long lateral-tracking shots and drawn-out zooms. You will watch characters dance alone in their houses. You will watch them masterbate. You will watch them walk across a desert. You will watch them sit on couches or at tables or on patios or literally anywhere one can sit—and talk about soccer. Each scene feels more like a short film than a moment connecting other moments. The scene blocking is precise and pictorial. The sparse dialogue forces viewers to notice silence, the pauses between lines.
It’s all fantastically boring and boldly fascinating in equal measure.
And now I will describe the first scene.
An L.A. cop (played by Miles Teller) leans against his patrol car as his partner tells of the woman he’s currently having an affair with. It is night. A man sits in a car across the street, watching the two officers. “I think I’m gonna have to kill her, man,” Teller’s partner tells him. “She’s gonna ruin my life.” The officers wait. And wait. Then, they get back into their car. They leave. The man watching across the street follows. Roll title card: Too Old to Die Young.
Here we go.