Monday, February 20, 2012

Transcendent Driving

I finally watched Drive, the most recent Nicolas Winding Refn film. And I was transported to another world for an hour and 40 minutes. It's a world that sounds and feels and looks like the 1980s: pink flourescent lights, ethereal synthesized music, brown leather driving gloves, and a white ribbed-satin jacket with black collar and cuffs and embroidered with a gold scorpion on its back. While no date is given, the film's setting is actually more recent, probably 2011, judging from the cars and other clothes. Refn infuses the film with certain '80s stylistic elements not make a period film or even necessarily to demonstrate his nostalgia for the era. He certainly does not long for the egoistic materialism of the '80s. I see the slightly archaic elements as a metaphor for Driver (Gosling's character is not given a name). He is a man not from the '80s per say but from a different time and place. He comes from a long line of terse and rule-oriented action heroes: I'm thinking specifically of Gary Cooper in High Noon and Alain Delon in Le Samourai. Much more could be said about this if I had the time.

Drive is an intense action film stripped of typical dialogue and, well, action. In fact, Gosling's character says very little. He speaks with his actions, his face, and his driving. And the action scenes come in short violent bursts. But the film is so much more than an action film. The rest of the film is basically a European art film--think Tarkovsky.  It's suffused with a kind of earthy mysticism, a spirituality that transcends its most brutal moments. And when the violence comes, the build-up to it is so restrained and slow and tense that the violence is all the more shocking and oddly cathartic. Drive is ultimately a humanist film. Despite its focus on criminals and a couple of purely evil characters, it seems to be saying that human beings with all of their foibles and faults have the potential for goodness and can be redeemed. You must see this film!

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