Shhhhh! Driving In-progress
“…Don’t worry. Don’t worry. That’s it. It’s done. There is no pain, it’s over. It’s over.”
What did you picture when you read that dialogue? Depending on how you think and visualise, if you haven’t seen or heard anything about Drive, you’ll conjure images of a doctor or nurse attending a patient, or someone consoling their dear one. Now eat this: it’s the antagonist Bernie (Albert Brooks) wantonly slicing the vein of his adversary’s hand with a cut-throat razor while reassuring his victim that it’s going to be alright. Nah, stop thinking Hannibal Lecter, Bernie is no cannibalistic serial killer. He’s just another on-the-job mobster trying to eke a living, keeping his tracks clean; you can’t blame him, can you?
What the heck, you can’t blame the unnamed (provided ‘driver’ doesn’t count as a name) protagonist (Ryan Gosling) either. He too is merely playing his part — that of the thesis and the anti-thesis. He lives in the shadows but doesn’t shy away from the dawn; he maybe a man of few words but he’s also a man of many facets; but most importantly — he’s neither the good nor the bad — he simply IS the ‘driver’.
A nameless driver who’s a stuntman by day and contractual getaway driver by night and executes deals on his terms and conditions only. As cool as a cucumber and as calm as the sea, there’s no saying what our man will or will not do to run the show his way. That’s exactly why the second half simply shatters you. Why does the ‘driver’ let himself go and be played upon? Why does he shift gears and screw up his life while he could keep cruising all along? Why the detour when he could take the road often taken? Yeah, you got that right, it’s a woman. Now here’s the deal, she’s not the love of his life, nah; she’s not his mother, shut-up! She’s just his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) with looks that can melt a rock and a young kid Benicio who strangely is a boy-of-few-words like the ‘driver’ himself. Now, is that reason enough for the ‘driver’ to go out of his way to help Irene’s husband close a deal in-return for the family’s safety? Maybe he’s just being human and wants Irene to know how much he loves her and it doesn’t always have to be the run-of-the-mill love.
There are too many “ifs” and “maybes” and “whys” for audiences to discern. Like the ‘driver’ who speaks only when required and lets his unfathomable eyes do the rest (Ryan Gosling in a role he was born to play and aim for the Oscars), it’s up to the audience to decide what’s going on in the ‘driver’s’ head. What lies in-between the lines is what makes Drive a pastiche of sorts: a modern-day classic love story meets pulp meets noir meets director Nicolas Winding Refn’s artistic vision. A vision where silence is the key and talking takes a backseat. Where each frame is seen from the panoramic windshield point-of-view of the silent driver going about his daily routine with 80’s retro electronica playing soothingly in the background. And slowly like the driver’s life that fades into the night, each frame slowly fades out or dissolves into the next frame so aesthetically that cinephiles will revisit Drive to see if it was a neat editing job or the cinematographer playing tricks with the light.
There’s something for everyone. And yet Drive belongs to no one. Whether it’s the protagonist whose existential angst remains unknown, or the dimple-faced Irene whose sorrow is largely unsaid, or the antagonist Bernie who slithers people like applying butter on bread. Maybe it belongs largely to the people behind the wheels — screenwriter Hossein Amini and author James Sallis on whose book it is based (wonder if the silences are conveyed as effectively in the book) or Refn’s vision that blows new life to an often told tale of the lone ranger. Or maybe Drive belongs to the prodigious maestros of cinema to whom this movie is a befitting tribute.
For yet another interesting journey, read Dave’s review: Let’s Go for a Drive