It’s In My Nature, Reflections on Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive”
“Have you ever heard of the story of the scorpion and the frog?” the nameless Driver (Ryan Gosling) asks movie-producer-turned-mobster Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) towards the end of Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece Drive. In that one line, when you put it in context, you get everything you need to know about the character. Heck, he’s even wearing a jacket with a scorpion on it for 99% of the film.
There has been much said about the hyper-violence that punctuates Refn’s otherwise hypnotic drama. Some love it, some think it detracted from the story.
I happen to think Refn’s execution of the violence was pitch perfect and Gosling’s superb performance just reinforces the story’s message: you can’t escape your nature.
The Driver doesn’t think about his violent acts; he just does them. They’re part of his nature, the way he instinctually reacts to certain situations. Think Viggo Mortensen’s character in A History of Violence.
He’s clearly tried to repress them in his day-to-day life – hence his day job as a mechanic. He’s even tried to find other outlets for his violent nature (i.e. his other two jobs).
But he just can’t help it; it’s in his nature. And when these explosions of violence happen what’s most interesting is the look on the Driver’s face afterwards, especially in the elevator scene. He did what he had to do, but he’s both appalled that he did it and appalled that someone so dear to him had to witness it.
There’s another telling moment in the film that I really loved. When the Driver is talking to the son of Irene (Carey Mulligan) while the two watch cartoons. He asks if the shark in the cartoon is a bad guy and the son immediately says yes. The Driver asks him how can you tell? The son says he looks like a bad guy, plus have you ever seen a good shark?
I found that scene particularly fascinating because again the Driver is wrestling with his inner demons. He knows he is a violent man, he knows that he does illegal things; that he is, in some shape or form, a “bad guy.” Yet, you wouldn’t be able to tell that from looking at him.
I also love when Gosling and Brooks face off at the end. Like the Driver, Brooks’ Bernie is a man who is violent by nature. This scene is like all the great showdowns in classic Westerns; only instead of guns the two exchange false promises, both knowing the other is figuring out just the right moment to strike. They’re both scorpions and neither one wants to let the other across the river.
While Gosling’s performance may be too subtle for Awards Season, I’m thinking Brooks’ performance won’t be forgotten – Hollywood loves to “rediscover” someone, especially in a bravado performance that is so completely against type.
The last thing I wanted to mention is how much I love all the attention to detail that Refn put into this film. He won Best Director at the Cannes film festival in May, and rightfully so.
There’s this amazing color story throughout the film. Mostly in shades of teal blue and this sort of golden amber color. Everything from the streetlights to the bedspread in a motel fit into this color scheme. As the film progresses and the violence increases the amber begins to turn into this darker red color. It’s just fucking brilliant.
I’ve seen this film in theaters three times now and I still want to see it again. and again. and again. It’s everything I want in a film. If it’s playing near you, I urge you to go and give it a chance yourself.