“I don’t think the film finds the Driver to be a heroic figure.”
Which is strange, considering Refn does consider The Driver character to be a hero.
-Nicolas Winding Refn (from http://screenrant.com/interview-drive-nicolas-winding-refn-robf-129686/)
The latter is more in line with what we’re talking about.
I’ve heard that before but I always thought he was being facetious. At the very least he is using a, shall we say, unique definition of the word hero.
Not to mention a unique definition of psychotic.
The violence is definitely necessary. Two particular scenes could have maybe been less frankly graphic, but then it would be a different film.
I see the driver as sort of an urban ‘Man with no name’.
Sure. I find Driver to be more interesting than The Man With No Name (or “Blondy”).
^ Granted for the filmmaker’s own definition of what his film means, and gathering from all the discussion in this thread as to the film being a send up of the glorification of violent masculinity on film, I think it succumbs to the very tropes it sends up in making the violence and circumstances in which it takes place all the more consumable and ritualized in all its explicit detail and execution (no pun intended). Even if Refn is being flippant in his own description (which could be the case, considering there being a stretch in treating such a character as the driver as having “a lot of empathy” whilst mechanically moving in on a woman who’s lost her significant other and father of her child in a deal he too was involved as “trying to help”), the story’s resting on much pretense of the driver being “our hero” from the get-go, though our attachment to him is just as well as his to anybody else in the film. To me, he’s more or less operating from the reptilian brain, in most all of his actions and reactions. He lacks depth and personality to merit any empathy or interest from me, nor is he some projectionary model upon which he can be deemed a worthy archetype. He’s the extreme Yang at nearly its most mechanical. As for it all being a send-up or critique of any stylized male-centric actioners, I can only think of a phrase I’ve heard somewhere else, “You cannot make an anti-fascist statement using fascist methods.” If the intent was to expose the ridiculous excess and inhumane underside of such depictions, I think the utilizations of emulating some aspects of the style and content whilst amplifying others ended up making it more of a leering love letter than anything else.
Is the violence necessary in Cannibal Holocaust? If not for the violence we would’ve never even heard of it because no one would’ve bothered watching it in the first place.
It isn’t necessary (for that matter what is?) but I don’t see a problem with films going beyond necessity. Judging by Refn’s track record as a filmmaker I would say he isn’t too concerned with practicality. He’s an extreme personality type who creates extreme and intentionally sensational artwork (none of which I cared for up until Drive.) From his standpoint, he set out to make a remarkably violent movie and therefore had his own idea of what was necessary to accomplish this. If you set out to make a movie which is incredibly violent, you’ll probably think that extreme levels of violence will be necessary. Yes the use of violence is decadent, but the way it mixes with the film’s other visceral elements arouses emotions that wouldn’t have been evoked otherwise. If you toned it down you would’ve had a very different movie and that movie probably would’ve sucked.
Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, to cite a fairly recent example.
“Is the violence necessary in Cannibal Holocaust? If not for the violence we would’ve never even heard of it because no one would’ve bothered watching it in the first place.”
Holocausto Canibal! yikes. Now THAT is a movie I wish I had never heard about. It was the highest GROSSing film iwhen it was released in my country in 1981. Made more money than Raiders of the Lost Ark…
I didn’t see the Driver as somebody who was supposed to be empathetic. I see him more as a ‘Scorpion and the Fox’ parable. And, hey, he just happens to wear a coat with a big scorpion on it. He has sublimated desires to protect people and settle down, but he is only capable of acting on his extremely violent animal instinct to further those goals.
Our attachment to the character is the same as our attachment to Blondy, or Bea, or Walter White. We don’t like him, we just attach ourselves to him because we’ve been placed in his perspective.
And, of course, when mentioning similarities to and influence of other characters and other films, one shouldn’t neglect to mention Walter Hill’s The Driver, from which the film, by way of James Sallis’s novel, lifts its central conceit pretty much wholesale.
“The fact that the film treats these violent outbursts as infantile tantrums . . . "
Yeah, to me this reading of the film makes it about as interesting as it can be made to be (well, that and Refn’s suggesting in interviews that it’s a kind of John Hughes film).
^^Yeah, I think that’s on the right road, Matt. I also continue to find resonance in a comment Dimitris made in the original thread about the film(started by Jazz), something along the lines that the film is about men trying to love(which can also be tied into that same thread’s brief discussion upon the potential homoerotic components of the film).
And on that note, just for the hell of possibly offering some more alternate perspective, here’s something I wrote on the film for a class a while back, shortly after the film’s release. (I call it a cautionary tale at the end, I don’t really agree with this idea anymore).
“I Could Protect You”: Masculinity in Crisis in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’
[first paragraph conveniently excised for you chums; synopsis of the film]
Firstly, the essential subtextual relevance of the film’s title and primary imagery is almost so literal as to be elusive. That is, in the most literal human sense, the Driver seems to embody animalistic, detached and adamant drive—the violent surge of masculine fervor. The first and last things we see in the film are lustrous sequences of the Driver riding through the Los Angeles night—embossed in the iconic image of the hero who must adhere to his righteous and necessary fate as an outsider and specter. Toward the end of the film, the Driver speaks on the phone with Bernie, the head gangster, and asks him if he is familiar with the ancient fable of the toad and the scorpion. A scorpion comes to a pond and meets a toad. The toad promises the scorpion safe transport across the pond as long as the scorpion promises not to attack. The scorpion complies, but when as they cross the pond, the scorpion stings the toad. Upon dying, the toad asks the scorpion to explain himself. The scorpion does by so saying ‘Because it is my nature’. The men in Refn’s film feel resigned to act out the destructive narratives of their idealized roles of male power and conflict, and just to make the point elegantly clear, the Driver is repeatedly seen wearing a jacket adorned with an enormous stitched-on image of, sure enough, a scorpion.
This notion of self-imposed determinism manifests itself rather subtly throughout the first portion of the film. For the first third or so, we sense that the Driver’s kindness and charity toward Irene and her family are merely the product of his generally decent nature as a caring person. He and Irene first speak to each other when he spots her and the young Benicio in a supermarket lot, their car broken down. Following the metaphor of the car as representing a sort of animalism bereft of cognition, this scene is particularly notable. Irene is rational, casual, at ease—ergo, her car is broken down. She is freed from any sort of imprisoning mechanical insistence. Yet, the Driver’s car is sleek, loud, and brimming with force as he drives Irene and Benicio back home in his car—inducting them into his troubled world. Onward, the Driver’s motivations remain sound and justifiable to the audience. He backs off of developing a relationship with Irene after Standard returns home, and treats him respectfully once they become acquainted. The Driver’s decision to help Standard pull off his final robbery job even feels necessary within the reality of the film—a woman and her young son are in danger, this is the only logical manner in which to handle the situation. We know the Driver is more than capable at such work, and so we approve of this as an audience—with much confidence and excited anticipation. But once Standard is killed and the job goes awry, the film takes its stunning, eloquently deranged turn into complexity, and the Driver’s motivations begin to appear far more unnerving. The gangster that forces Standard to pull off the job in the first place, Cook, sends his wife Blanche along on the job to help. Once the Driver and Blanche flee the violent scene—and the ill-intentioned car that chases them—they hide out in an isolated motel. Herein lies what may be the film’s defining scene, as the Driver begins to suspect a deeper conspiracy regarding the whole affair and suddenly lashes out at Blanche, slapping her, pushing her onto the motel bed, pressing his hand to her mouth as she tries to cry out, and tells her that he intends to harm her much further if she does not tell him about the underpinnings of the job. The scene is shocking and disorienting precisely because it destroys our established relationship with the Driver as a relatable, rightful hero. But this Refn’s point exactly; the Driver is a hero—in the worst, most impractical sense of the term—and we are not meant to sympathize with him. The job has fallen apart, the Driver feels responsible for “getting a boy’s father killed”, is now in mortal danger himself, and he manages his panic by embracing male dominance (Amini). Refn has thus far shot the Driver from a distance, keeping him elusive but relatively unimposing. But now, the camera reclines in Blanche’s point of view—the Driver looming over us with pointed finger and clenched jaw, threatening the audience in a sense, daring us to endorse our classical conception of the action-steeped male hero. After the Driver’s outburst, Blanche retreats to the bathroom to collect herself. The Driver then realizes the small motel is surrounded by gunmen. Before he can act, we see the men silhouetted in all of the windows, including the bathroom window. Then, in one of the film’s most audacious and cinematically confrontational moments, we see Blanche shot in the head at point-blank range—Refn offering us a close-up, slow-motion view of the carnage. The gunmen burst into the hotel; most of them dispatched by the Driver right off, the last one befallen by the most unsavory fate of having a shower curtain driven into his throat. Suddenly, the place is just as quiet as it was only a moment ago, only now the tension has, somehow, managed to escalate even further. We then see the frightening reality of the Driver’s true self as he emerges from the darkened bathroom into light, his face marred with rained blood and beading sweat. He has finally entered the new form of the powerful hero in an ambiguous but gruesome baptism. Refn slowly closes in on Gosling’s bloodied face gazing vacantly—sickly, almost toward the audience itself. Once again, we are not meant to rejoice in these actions which, in many other films, would be intended as viscerally gripping, but righteously exciting, morally resonant crowd-pleasers. This is the first of a number of key scenes exemplifying the brutal reality (and moral ruin) of what it would actually entail to take on the sort of identity annually espoused with much glory and fanfare in Hollywood action and superhero films. In fact, when interviewed upon the film’s release, Gosling went as far as to say of the Driver; “He’s confusing his life for a film, and he’s made himself the hero of his own action film” (Kompanek). And indeed, if we take Drive itself as an action film, it must also then be considered one of the few truly honest action films. That is, the deadpan manner in which Refn presents the violence emphasizes not only its sheer horror, but also its pure absurdity. For all of the mob’s notions of power and all of the Driver’s notions of being a classical male hero, this is the logical outcome: bodies, and nothing more. The film’s brute sense of mortality swells as it progresses, continually striking us with its random, spastic furor, and when it’s all said and done, amid all of the characters’ woes and angers there is only meaningless death—hollow but heavy. No one gains anything by the end—everyone is marginally quite poorer and displaced in many regards as the result of the continuous violence. If this is an action movie, it’s not one that appreciates or endorses its own gunplay, bludgeoning, and stabbings. It’s also one that takes great pleasure in prolonged sequences of very little conventional stimulation, marked by alienation and isolation. It is one of the first anti-action films, perhaps.
But for all of the film’s concern with sending up the standard cinematic conventions of maleness, it must be remembered that this endeavor is just an extension of the film’s essential concern with modern masculinity and the search for identity. In that regard, we notice the importance of Nino and Bernie’s respective places in the narrative. Bernie is a West Coast mobster reclining finely within in his life, but this ordeal involving the Driver challenges his contentment. He must have the Driver killed because, if not for any other understandable malicious reason, the money is revealed to actually belong to the East Coast mob, and Bernie and Nino must sweep the entire affair away lest they face torrential retaliation. At one point, Bernie explains that he wasn’t always involved with organized crime—in fact, he was once a film director. Of action films. Here again is another man who must align himself with misguided visions of male identity in an attempt to regulate his own identity. As for Bernie’s longtime business partner Nino, we learn of the pain he holds regarding his place in life—feeling emasculated and abused within his own family. Both men, like the Driver, are lost in their ways, and find violence and power to be the only means through which they can communicate. And ironically, in the case of all three, we will see that it is tenderness and contact they are most deeply in search of.
Refn’s themes here are both subtle and heavyhanded. There are the quieter sorts of subtextual components observed here, but then there are also more obvious indications of Refn’s themes. Namely, there is the all-encompassing song played recurrently on the soundtrack at pivotal points, a preexisting track from the artist College(featuring Electric Youth) titled “A Real Hero”. The few lyrics of the song detail wanting to become “A real hero/and a real human being”. And, of course, this is precisely what the Driver is trying to do. Yet his attempt to become a real hero derails his effort to be a real human being. As long as his view of heroism remains what it is, he cannot be both hero and human. Thus, the song keenly displays the essential themes of the film in a fashion that, like the title, is almost so obvious that it obscures its own thematic depth.
One of the most poignant and telling moments in regards to the film’s concern with archetypal male heroism is when the Driver first confronts Irene after Standard’s death. She had been unaware of the Driver’s criminal activity at all, and so it is a particularly jarring revelation for her when the Driver tells says that he was alongside Standard for most of the fateful robbery. We see a displacement in her face, mostly marked by a definite contempt and sense of betrayal. This is the man with whom she has opened up to (and allowed her son to open up to), and here he is describing how he took part in the event that eventually widowed her, and orphaned her son. In a truly pathetic turn, seeing that he is losing her in every way, the Driver suggests to Irene that she take the robbery money and that she and her son run away, and that he, the Driver, could come with them. Now, following the standard Hollywood formula in which the dominant, violent and righteous male hero is always right and always gets what he wants, this would be a warm and bright scene of the wayward and helpless female submitting, romantically and existentially. But there is no room for romanticism here. Thus, his subsequent uttering of “I could protect you” is marked by her then slapping him across the face (Amini). The Driver may be living in a warped action film in his mind, but Irene is in reality—bleak and practical reality. This fascinatingly sad exchange—the Driver’s last true attempt to reach out—is immediately followed by another one of the film’s most defining moments, as Irene and the Driver enter the elevator of their building. From a previous scene, we immediately realize that the stranger aside the Driver and Irene in the elevator is in fact a hitman hired by Bernie and Nino to kill the Driver. The Driver soon enough spots the man’s handgun holstered beneath his coat. The scene affirms itself as a brief but breathtaking tour de force, as Refn brings everything back down to slow-motion and the Driver turns and embraces Irene, kissing her (presumably for the first time). A surreal golden light begins to glow over them and the film enters one of its few cleanly serene, untainted moments of beauty. The strange grace of the moment—its glaringly unrealistic aura—is assuredly an inclination that, at least in regards to this instance—we are viewing the embellishment of the Driver’s warped interpretation of reality rather than reality itself. But this is of little matter, as the light begins to fade and we soon land back down to awful, awful reality. Perhaps to compensate for this momentary interlude of true peace, Refn then pulls us out, and into the film’s most ludicrously brutal event yet. Just as the Driver pulls away from Irene, the hitman goes for his gun. The Driver pushes Irene from harm’s way and quickly discards the assassin’s weapon. The man is knocked to the floor of the elevator, and the Driver then proceeds to maniacally, grotesquely stomp on the man’s head until he is mangled and killed. The elevator then opens, and the Driver slowly turns to see the pure horror in Irene’s paled face as she slowly backs away. It’s a helpless, childlike sense of shame attendant upon the Driver’s face as he gazes back at her. It is that same vacant look brimming with tension that we first saw in the motel bathroom. There is a primal nakedness to his blank stare. He has revealed his true self once again; but now it is, irreparably, to the one person with whom he come closest to feeling some sort of positive contact with. The only way, ultimately, he knows how to express his desire is through violence and power, and now he has lost Irene completely because of this. He is far past the point of grasping reality. Earlier in the film is a brief but simply encapsulating scene of the Driver and Benicio watching a cartoon on TV. Referring to the cartoon, the Driver asks Benicio “How do you know he’s a bad guy?”(Amini). Benicio responds, quite nonchalantly, “He’s a shark” (Amini). The Driver responds by saying “A shark can’t be a good guy?” (Amini). Refn’s answer, resoundingly—if we as an audience have gathered anything up to this point—is a large, bloodstained No.
Perhaps Refn’s final provocative articulation of this identity struggle is the sequence depicting the Driver preparing to assassinate Nino. Presumably, now that Irene was put in direct danger, the Driver has finally snapped and leapt completely headfirst and hellbent into his mission of violent masculine heroism. In a montage, we see the Driver quietly entering the Hollywood lot of a film he had been shown doing stunt-driving for. He enters his trailer and retrieves the high-quality rubber mask of the actor he is stunting for. He then is seen driving in search of Nino wearing the mask. With this, the Driver has fully finished his fantastical metamorphosis. He has completely obscured his own yearning identity, the one that reached out to Irene and Benicio not so long ago. He is fully alienated from reality, and from himself, merely taking on yet another stunt. Though perhaps it is his greatest stunt; making the stuntman—the figure with no identity—the hero.
After killing Nino and briefly saying goodbye to Irene over telephone, the Driver arranges to meet with Bernie to sort out the matter once and for all. Bernie complies, and they converge to a Chinese restaurant where the Driver is to give the money back. Bernie insures that Irene and Benicio will be safe, but tells the Driver that he still has a price on his head—nothing can be done about this. The Driver doesn’t seem to mind, though. This is merely the logical course of his glorious journey—just like all the pointless murders, this is just the necessary burden of being “a real hero”. Refn indicates just as much, as he suddenly intercuts between the Driver and Bernie finishing their exchange in the restaurant with shots of them already outside at the Driver’s car retrieving the money. They gaze wordlessly at each other at the table, and we cut to Bernie stabbing the Driver in the parking lot—minutes from now. Refn cuts back to their gazes in the restaurant, as if they both feel the resonance of this violence to come, both knowing they must play out the script of the personas they have lodged themselves within. Then, finally, we return permanently now to the scene in the parking lot, where the Driver then suddenly produces his own knife and harshly wounds Bernie in the gut. The tone of the scene then enters a state that, stunningly, not only feels tender, but almost touching, in a sense. The Driver and Bernie are two of a kind, having spent the preceding narrative violently trying to codify their own crises of identity. Now, at the end of their poor roads, through all their self-ruin, they have found each other. It is no longer the scorpion and the toad, it is simply two scorpions stinging each, because it is their nature. Their violent journey through the dark end of the male psyche has led them to death, but in this death is a curious closeness. As they stand wounded and embracing, barely even struggling, Refn cuts profoundly to their shadows on the ground. This is the negative imprint of these troubled men and their plight for self-actualization. On the asphalt, we see their identities displaced, disembodied from them in complete alienation. But we also see their shadows entangled. They are two men at their respective wits’ end, fully out of ways to express themselves and define themselves as men. They are the brilliant failure of their pursuits, sinking to the ground together in death—their shadows then merging until we can no longer distinguish between the two—kindred spirits, impossible soulmates. Refn then shows us the Driver sitting in his car, wounded, presumably deceased. The camera prolongedly closes in on Gosling’s unmoving face as debate within ourselves whether the Driver is really dead or not. After a deep stillness, he begins to blink and shift. We cut, and he is driving into the sunset, away from the parking lot—away from the troublesome robbery money aside Bernie’s body. From the beginning to the end, the Driver was in it for his own disturbed code, and not for profit. He remains stationed in his idealism. It’s here that we inevitably begin to sense Refn hearkening to the ambiguity of Taxi Driver’s ending (a film very obviously an influence on Drive). Just as Travis Bickle seemed to be dead at first, only to prevail in a most romantic fashion, here we see the Driver carry on his somber, selfless way—still the hero, in his own eyes. In the cases of both films, there is the question of whether the ending is perhaps not actually a dying dream—the final delusion of its deranged protagonist and his doomed hero complex. The Driver has, presumably by his standards at least, prevailed. There is justice conceptually, although in practical, actual reality (the audience’s reality) there is only the grim resonance of the irreparable destruction and numbing, meaningless aggression enacted on the way to this justice. The Driver remains in his own deluded mental movie, and we can’t help but wonder if that is, in fact, what we are viewing. Case in point, we see Irene knock on the Driver’s door, only to sadly walk away, knowing he is gone for good. This would of course mean that somehow, after all this, she longs for him still. One can’t help but question this, again seeing shades of Taxi Driver, and that film’s Betsy appearing in Travis’s taxi with a promising glimmer in her eye. We don’t know if the Driver is alive or dead (as we leave him once again driving sleekly through the urban night), but it really doesn’t matter. Refn’s interests lay elsewhere.
Refn presents absurdly extreme violence, and a highly morally schizophrenic protagonist in order to confront the audience about its conceptions of heroism and its relation to violence in our common narrative culture, and to probe the modern male experience that seems to inevitably be influenced by that first matter. Drive is, in this sense, a postmodern cautionary tale. Though, it could also be seen as a tragic character study. Regardless of such distinctions however—each of the preceding being equally applicable—the film is, above all, an exemplary example of the manner in which cinema has such a close proximity to our sense of fantasy, dream, and passion—influencing these things, but then also penetrating these things, causing us to analyze them, and at least in this case, for the better.
Amini, Hossein, scr. Drive. Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks. FilmDistrict. 2011. Film.
Kompanek, David. “Interview: Ryan Gosling”. The AV Club. Onion Inc. 16 Sept. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2011.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Way It Is. CBC. Canada. 26. Nov. 1967. Television.