Silence. It permeates Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive. It makes you feel uncomfortable listening to nothing but your heart rate increase as you silently anticipate for the next action to take place, the next word to be spoken, or the unruly cinema spectator to take another bit of that butter induced bag of popcorn. However, it is the lack of dialogue that increases this gritty crime-drama to another unsuspecting level. It could have been an ordinary and uninspired film about a man who drove stunt cars, participated in high scoring heist’s and killed anyone who threatened those close to him. Luckily, Refn was patient and planned out each scene according to his personal artistic vision, and because of this no shot was wasted.
The film was cohesive, the juxtapositions were stark and astonishing, the character development of the unnamed driver (Gosling) and his relationships with Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio are effortlessly beautiful. When Gosling and Mulligan’s character’s meet and form their silent bond, dialogue is put on the back burner. You are moved seamlessly into their relationship through the music and the tranquility that resonates between them, which is a contrast to the savage scenes Gosling participates in. He is a man of few words, but when he does speak each syllable counts. His character is defined and driven more by his actions than dialogue, which are juxtaposed in the elevator scene where he passionately kisses Mulligan, the score becoming angelic and the light slowly illuminating the scene as if it were out of this world. This shot leads to the next action where he brutally stomps a mans face in right before Mulligan’s eyes. Each death in the film is somewhat expected but you just never know when or how it is going to happen. The pace is so slow that each sudden kill hits you like a blunt object to the gut and leaves you breathless.
The ending is the most ambiguous of all the scenes in the film, leaving you to contemplate whether or not Gosling is alive or dead. I interpreted his driving around the streets of LA with no danger ahead of him as his own version of Heaven, with nothing but the open road ahead of him. I find it really difficult to articulate the brilliance of this film. Refn put a lot of thought into the execution of this film and illustrating the point of view of the driver rather than the men doing the robbing of various establishments. During theft’s, the camera never leaves the car. It stays motionless with Gosling and puts you in the moment with him. All you hear are the natural noises around him, whether it is the radio playing the basketball game or the environmental sounds on the outskirts of the big city. The audience is left on the edge of their seat, wishing someone would say something, wishing you could see what was taking place inside the establishment being robbed. You become an outsider and left feeling calm yet anxious, the same way Gosling feels.
Though Refn drew from many outlets from inspiration, such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and David Lynch’s Mulhollond Drive, his main influence stemmed from the fairy tales of the Brother’s Grimm. He wanted to structure the film like a story tale and viewed the driver as a knight who wandered around in search of people to save. The hot pink colour of the title was inspired by the 1983 film Risky Business and the music utilized throughout the film was influenced by 1980s retro Europop music, as composer Cliff Martinez created a truly fragile and unearthly electronic-pop score. The unpredictable combination of everything in this film ultimately accumulates into a masterpiece of divine proportions and it comes as no surprise that Refn won the best director prize at the Cannes film festival this past year.
If you are a movie buff, then this film will knock you off your feet. However, if you are a simple movie goer who requires dialogue rather than silence to explain the emotional complexity of your characters and leave you with a clear, unambiguous ending, then this film is probably not for you. So think carefully before entering the theatre and prepare to be on the edge of your seat, literally.