Everything quickly begins to run together in Drive, moments and ideas effortlessly flows into and out of each other. The subplots intertwine, the scenes literally dissolve into each other and the protagonist’s two conflicting temperaments quickly being to dissolve into each other. It’s a film where the montages of ideas are superimposed over each other and synthesize into something else entirely.
By day, the quiet Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a soft mechanic but he moonlights as a getaway drive. In his personal life, he slowly becomes tangled up in the life of Irene (Carey Mulligan), a neighbor who is raising her son by herself while the father does jail time. Eventually, the two worlds collide and Driver is forced into a situation where his professional drive may be the only way to save his personal affections.
The subplots of the story slowly run together, the entire film slides quickly in and out of scenes. Some scenes run onto the point that they slowly bridge to another moment while other scenes leave quickly, jumping to a moment that may not seem like a logical next scene, but visually, it all feels right, as if the entire film is a mental reconstruction and association of the linear movement of events.
If the film has any fragmentation, it’s in the mind of its protagonist. Ryan Gosling’s performance as Driver gives the audience a glimpse into two incompatible sides. The first is soft, shy and boyish. A dopy smirk and a glance express his awkward unease towards those around him, specifically Irene. It makes him endearing and likable, but a bit uneasy and downright creepy at times.
But the second is this supremely focused, meticulously controlled psychotic side to him. The notion of controlled and psychotic sound incompatible, but it’s clear that he has some extreme and brutal reactions in the most calculated way possible. He never raises his voice or yells in anger, tying this side back to his boyish unease, but his spats of violence are disturbingly excessive and sadistic.
The visual style is also complicated and multifaceted. Many of the driving sequences involved a manager of sharp lights in contrast to deep darkness. Especially given the camera does not have the ability to contrast as well as the human eye, the ability to capture both creates a feeling of two contradictory presences in collision.
Synthesizing and compounding all of this is the use of music. While at first glance the songs simply give the film a sense of tempo and help reinforce the emotions and feelings of the moment, the lyrics are often at odds with the visuals. The best example is the recurring use of College’s “A Real Hero” which repeats “a real human being, and a real hero” in moments where the film casts doubts on the idea that Driver is either of those things.
Drive is a great work of art in that it presents the audience with complicated and contradictory elements. The story is of two worlds, the protagonist is driven inbetween two extremes and the visual style clashes. The film synthesizes and melds these things until they begin to run together to the point that on some level, they are indistinguishable.
© 2011 James Blake Ewing