The Five Stars is an article series in which we chronicle films that have a lasting influence on us and that we feel are essential for any film lover. This series is dedicated to the late Roger Ebert
Many people ask me, “Out of the hundreds of movies that you’ve seen, Why is Drive your favorite movie of all time?” I’ll tell you. But first, let’s get some insight.
Back in December 2014, I was bitten by the film bug. I couldn’t stop watching them and knew I wanted to do something in film. I just didn’t know what exactly.
After playing Hotline Miami, a fantastically gory game that was influenced by Drive, I decided to buy the film and see it for myself.
I didn’t know what to expect when I popped in the disc into my PS4 and out came the single most important film for me.
Drive made me want to be a film director.
Right from the start of it, I was floored. Going to bed after watching it was impossible. The images crossing my mind wouldn’t stop. 5 rewatches later and I’m still hooked on Drive.
I always thought of doing an analysis of Drive, but I could never bring myself to do it because of the hundreds of analysis’ done already.
But I need to do my own take on it.
Bare in mind that the majority of what I’ll be analyzing won’t be new and that’s fine. I want to share my thoughts on why this film is genius and one of the best films of all time.
What better way to start an analysis than at the beginning.
Drive has one of the greatest openings in film history.
It grabs you and doesn’t loosen its grip on you for a second. We get everything we need to know about The Driver, played with wonderful subtlety by Ryan Gosling, in one shot.
We pan across the table and see a map and watch laying there. This tells us not only about the meticulousness of The Driver, but the meticulousness of the director, Nicolas Winding Refn. He adds small details in Drive that foreshadows certain events in the film.
When The Driver leaves the hotel room, he leaves the Clippers game on. This Clipper Game will be the audience’s visual/audio call to see how much time The Driver has to finish this job.
During the robbery there’s a ticking sound in the place of music. We get an extra layer of tension added and it puts you at the edge of your seat .
During the escape scene there’s a moment that I absolutely love.
The Driver stops at a red light and sees a police car. He hears on the radio transmission that the police suspect him. His reaction is shown in a steady dutch angle.
As soon as the light turns green The Driver speeds through to Staples Center and walks out into the night. When the scene ends, we are prepared for some other tense scenes and to be patient during the entirety film.
Let’s talk about one of the hidden themes of Drive, identity.
The Driver’s Scorpion Jacket has become an iconic symbol to the film and is one of the key defining features of the film and The Driver himself.
Think of The Driver as Superman.
And who better to explain my point than Bill from Kill Bill.
“Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”
The Driver isn’t his true self when he isn’t wearing his Scorpion Jacket. He’s Clark Kent.
The man who reflects what the world is and what he thinks of the world. He thinks people are shy and timid. His true self is Angry, Haunting, and Violent.
During a routine grocery run, he becomes involved with Irene and her son Benicio.
When he first meets Irene, played with lovely sympathy by Carey Mulligan, he rarely wears his Scorpion Jacket and when he does he doesn’t fully wear it.
He trusts Irene to show her a glimpse of his real self but is too much of a coward to fully reveal who he is.
One of the ways he hides himself is by being a stunt double on movies. His mask is one of the pieces that really channels his anger.
When Irene first mentions Standard, her incarcerated husband, to The Driver, his photo is on a mirror.
The mirror is reflecting the shadow of Standard that’ll metaphorically plague The Driver and Irene’s relationship.
A couple scenes later we go to The Driver taking Irene and Benicio down to the L.A. River. This is his way of adjusting to his Clark Kent persona and showing the beauty he wants and feels with Irene.
When it ends we see The Driver carrying Benicio to his room. Benicio is covered in the Scorpion Jacket, symbolizing how The Driver will always protect Irene and Benicio.
The next time he puts his jacket back on is when Irene’s husband, Standard, returns. He realizes his romantic chances with Irene are over.
After that, The Driver’s true self starts coming to the surface, especially when he has an outburst at a diner.
The longer he wears the Jacket the more aggressive he becomes.
After the confrontation with the man at the diner is over, The Driver finds Standard beaten up. He finds out Standard owes money to the people who helped support his family while he was in prison.
The only way he can pay them back is to rob a pawn shop. The Driver agrees to help Standard because he want what is best for Irene and Benicio, and that’s a happy family.
The Driver teams up with Standard and the mysterious Blanche to rob a Pawn Shop.
It goes bad and Standard gets shot.
After a short chase, The Driver gets away and hides out with Blanche in a hotel room. There he finds out the whole job was a set up and two thugs are coming to kill The Driver and Blanche.
In a shocking moment, one of them blows Blanche’s brains out and almost instantly, the Driver kills him and the other thug.
What we get is a reaction shot of The Driver being shaken up over the incident.
His Clark Kent persona has been tainted.
That’s why for the rest of the film he wears his Scorpion jacket, because that’s all he has left.
Let’s talk about trust in Drive.
The Driver doesn’t trust many people so who does he trusts? Well it’s all about framing and blocking.
He only ever shows his full body to 3 people; Shannon (his partner in crime), Irene, and Benicio.
He shares full frame with them and if he’s with someone he doesn’t trust, we get shot-reverse shot.
The seating of certain people also tells us who he trusts.
People he trusts like Benicio, Irene, and Standard sit in the front seat while Blanche, Nino, and the two crooks in the beginning sit in the back seat.
Because just like The Scorpion and The Frog, the people he has to be cautious around, like the crooks and Blanche, are the scorpions. The Driver is the Frog.
The betrayal of Standard and Blanche causes The Driver to go to Cook, the man who set them up for the job.
After he brutalizes Cook, he finds out Nino, a slimy mobster who he is in business with, is the orchestrator of the whole operation.
When we get to the infamous Elevator Scene, The Driver realizes one of Nino’s thugs is already in there with him and Irene.
Realizing what he must do to save Irene, he kisses her passionately as a goodbye gesture and as an apology for what she is about to see.
The Driver then stomps the Thug’s head in, in one of the most violent scenes in all of cinema.
Irene exits the elevator, horrified at what The Driver has done. The elevator doors close. The relationship with Irene has been closed.
Bernie and Nino have an argument for Nino’s idiocy for trying to rob the East Coast Mob. It’s revealed that Nino only did this because he wanted to escape the image of being a child that the rest of his family has of him.
Bernie, a man who is an old friend of Shannon, now has to kill everyone involved in the incident to cover up Nino’s shame.
Refn humanizes Bernie in a scene where he sits down and reflects on his actions. It’s a look of remorse and regret. In this moment, you can see he hates being the one who has to clean the mess up.
To make sure there’s no loose ends, Bernie kills Cook and Shannon and is now after The Driver.
When The Driver finds Shannon’s body, he begins a quest for revenge.
Many people were confused as to why The Driver looked out of Nino’s Diner and didn’t kill him there right away.
I feel that The Driver has completely desensitized himself to the violence and is saying to himself, “If I’m going to kill these two, I’m going to do it in style.”
That’s exactly what he does. He kills them in the most cinematic way possible.
Once we get to the final confrontation with Bernie, The Driver realizes he might not make it out alive.
He calls Irene and says his goodbyes.
Afterwards, he meets Bernie and they have a scuffle where The Driver is seriously injured but gets the upperhand and kills Bernie. The way they show Bernie’s death is by showing the two shadows. The brighter shadow defeating the darker shadow.
Drive is a reinterpretation of the Good vs Evil story that adds more emotion and depth with beautiful subtext that makes this film an instant classic.
A film that delves deep into it’s story and characters in a way that makes you care for them.
It’s a beautiful film that will always be my all time favorite.
All images via FilmDistrict