#byNWR: Too Old to Die Young - Episode 8: The Hanged Man

Late into Nicolas Winding Refn’s British feature film Bronson, chronicling the true life story of Britain’s most violent prisoner, the title character played by Tom Hardy takes a prison staff member hostage in his cell before calling the guards.  He strips naked from head to toe and orders the hostage to grease him up so when the guards storm the cell they can’t grab ahold of him.
Before they enter, he turns to face the hostage in full frontal nudity and says ‘Now hang onto your fillings.  Alright?  ‘Cause it’s going to get f**king Leary’.  It’s important to strongly consider this line of dialogue when approaching the eighth episode of the writer-director’s Amazon television series Too Old to Die Young: The Hanged Man, as Refn all but completely destroys the viewer within the episode’s eighty-eight minute running time.

Simply put, much like the eighth episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, you’re no longer the same person you were before watching it.  Opening on a truly bizarre farewell from the police force to the show’s hero Martin Jones (Miles Teller) who announced his retirement from law enforcement, the sense one gets is that this strange episode could go anywhere. 

What it doesn’t foreshadow, however, is a level of savagery and truly really very shocking violence as well as psychosexual perversity unparalleled by anything in the Danish provocateur’s filmography.  Managing to outdo the horrors unleashed in Pusher III, Only God Forgives and even The Neon Demon, this one episode is unquestionably the most uncompromisingly extreme work Nicolas Winding Refn has ever fashioned and it will break you. 

Easily the most daring, affronting and visually stunning episode aired yet on the show, The Hanged Man earns the tagline ‘not for the faint hearted’.  In an age of shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Chernobyl and yes Twin Peaks: The Return as well as considering every other film Mr. Refn has unleashed into the unsuspecting world, even I was not ready for this. 

If you’ve come this far into the writer-director’s series by now, you won’t see this one coming from miles away.  But that doesn’t mean it’s completely unwatchable either.  There’s moments of tenderness including a poignant scene of a dying Viggo (John Hawkes) with the otherwise bloodless Martin Jones trying to comfort him.  There’s also ample room for expressing Yaritza’s (Cristina Rodlo) devotion to Jesus (Augusto Aguilera) as well as her own code of conduct with respect to maintaining her role as ‘The High Priestess of Death’.

Still, with as much as I’ve seen as well as knowing the director’s filmography like the back of my hand, it’s hard to shock me and I was truly left in a state of catatonic shock when this episode ended.  Daring to the extreme and absolutely horrifying coupled with some of the most kaleidoscopic phantasmagorical imagery Mr. Refn has conjured up from his perverse imagination and desire to provoke however negative the reaction might be, The Hanged Man will hit you in the face like a blood and grue soaked crowbar.  This development late into the series however, let it be said, is less about what people want than what they need.

- Andrew Kotwicki