By Don Simpson | February 27, 2015
Director: Liv Corfixen
A filmmaker’s significant other not only has unbridled access to their personal life, but they also have a unique perspective on the filmmaker’s personality and psyche; so, as we watch Liv Corfixen’s My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, we learn that the title of the “behind-the-scenes” documentary by Refn’s wife has a multitude of meanings. Though My Life Directed may seem like an everyday documentary about a filmmaker contending with the pressures following a critical and commercial success, that description surely does not do Corfixen’s film the justice it deserves.
Refn’s critical and commercial success, of course, was Drive, which obviously makes My Life Directed “about” Only God Forgives. We all know the fate of Only God Forgives — only a handful of critics recognized its genius (here’s my 9 out of 10 review), while everyone else trashed it with reckless abandon. Judging from Corfixen’s documentary, the fate of Only God Forgives was essentially predetermined. Utterly terrified of failure, Refn is deathly nervous about his new production; his Kubrickian obsession with perfection certainly does not help.
In one of the infinite risks that Refn takes throughout Only God Forgives‘ production, Refn drags his family to Bangkok for six months. As it turns out, this is just the tip of the iceberg of Refn’s domineering tendencies. Sure, My Life Directed reveals Refn as a committed family man who dedicates time to entertain his children and speak lovingly with his wife, but the unblinking eye of Corfixen’s ever-vigilant camera also reveals a more menacing side to Refn’s persona. Do not worry, Refn is never abusive, yet he does become overly fixated on success, leaving his family by the waste side. This is precisely where Corfixen’s oh-so-personal view of her subject really takes hold.
Although Refn is the one who initially directs Corfixen to reveal herself (via a mirror image) as the person behind the camera, Corfixen’s presence becomes increasingly apparent as their marriage is impacted by Refn’s behavior. With telling facial expressions aimed directly at the eye of Corfixen’s lens, Ryan Gosling has no qualms about slyly criticizing Refn as he rambles on about how Only God Forgives‘ build up of violence relates to sex. Gosling presumably knows that Refn is clearly off his rocker, he just wants to make sure that Corfixen understands this as well.
Corfixen becomes the innocent victim of her husband’s creative risks and egotistical desire; all the while, My Life Directed showcases Corfixen as the obliging and supportive wife, who heroically contends with her husband’s depression and violent outbursts…because that it is precisely what the wives of artists do, right? In the end, Corfixen serves as Refn’s voice of reason.
That is not to say that Refn is a total bad guy. My Life Directed also provides a more forgiving perspective in which to view Only God Forgives. It is hard to deny that the hope of this documentary is to shed a light upon Refn’s genius, no matter how flawed it is. The aforementioned comparison to Kubrick’s drive for perfection is by no means an exaggeration. Refn himself deems Only God Forgives to be a failure, but only because it is not absolutely perfect. Maybe Refn has not learned that absolute perfection is a very rare commodity in the realm of cinema?