Drive is a neo-noir film that was released on the 13th of August 2011, directed by Dutch director Nicolas Winding Refn. The general narrative of the film is that Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a professional Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. His two lines of work cross as he encounters Irene (Carey Mulligan) who he falls for almost immediately. Once her husband returns from prison and puts Irene and her son in danger through the men who he owes money to Driver helps the husband pull off a robbery to pay off his dues. The job turns out to be a set up and marks the beginning of the freefall and the beginning of his journey towards his fate. His illegitimate and legitimate lives begin to cross over until all the aspects of his life turn against him.
The narrative is both typical and atypical of both the neo-noir and film noir genres. Where the narrative is typical of the noir genre is the dark underlying nature of the film. Noir films are traditionally a visual exploration of the dark and innocent side of a protagonist or a variety of characters. Drive is no different, in fact this exploration is what the film is built upon. The number of times where Driver is presented as a juxtaposing character to himself is surreal. His two personas are nocturnal and diurnal, in the same way that the city of the L.A is, having a dark, criminal nightlife. Gosling’s character can be described as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character, his inner Hyde comes out at night when he moonlights as a getaway driver. This change is represented through the use of a plethora of micro features such as: Dialogue, Mise-en-scene, cinematography etc. (Establishing shot of LA at night)
During the night, naturally, there is a change to low key lighting, but rather than just be low-key lighting due to the change into night the traditional Chiaroscuro lighting technique is used, to put the protagonist into further darkness creating an effect by where he is made more ambiguous and immoral.
His moral code is presented as changing through the use of dialogue. Whilst in a dinner Driver comes into contact with an ex-collaborator and a proposition of a new heist comes into conversation Driver interrupts and comes out with “shut your mouth, or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and I’ll shut it for you”. This very aggressive and threatening use of language reflects the change of character as this is something that he would never say in front of Irene or her sonand this suggestion of violence is archetypal of the film noir genre, especially with the original films as Hays Code banned the use of graphic violence in films and so directors of thetime had to connote graphic violence as compensation for the lack of actual visual violence.
As the narrative develops and his situation becomes darker and hopeless he becomes more violent and vengeful. He loses all morals and brutally attacks anyone who crosses his path. This is archetypal of the Noir genre, as the protagonist become more and more desperate as they fall into a deeper, more hopeless situation they use violence as a last resort.
Mise-en-scene is also used effectively to create the representation of Driver having multiple personas, specifically through the use of Lighting. As is the case with most noir films, shadows are cast with as much frequency as possible. However, Refn uses shadows especially well, making it blatantly clear that Driver has multiple personas. In fact, the ending is brilliantly done and is atypical of the noir genre. Traditionally, Noir Films end on a very negative note, with all parties involved losing and while Drive features a lot of death and almost all main characters perish Driver could be seen as having a ‘happy ending’. I believe that the final scene where Driver and Bernie stab each other in the parking lot was shot in a very specifically manner to create this happy ending. The actual killing of Bernie is shown through shadows on the ground as a homage to the aforementioned Hays code but as well as this to present the death of Driver’s Mr. Hyde persona. As Bernie was the last person who wanted Driver dead his death signifies the liberation of his character as he is no longer in a situation of desperation and ergo he no longer needs to rely on his immoral alternative personality. This representation is supported through the next frame where Driver is bathed in a sea of sun light, for the first time since his situation began to worsen he is in a world of light where it is impossible for his shadow to be cast.
There are many typical character types found in the Noir genre. The three most iconic being the seeker hero, the femme fatale and the fall guy. In the case of Drive only one of these are present, the fall guy. The fall guy in film Noir is a character who has nothing but bad luck and is often used as a scapegoat for other characters to exploit and take advantage of to get themselves out of trouble, and in Drive this character comes in the form of Shannon. Bernie reveals that in the past Shannon has got himself into trouble, getting his pelvis broken and when asked about how it was recovering Shannon replied by saying “I paid my debt”. Bernie also goes onto state that Shannon has “never had a lot of luck”. As the situation worsens for everyone involved Shannon fulfills his role as a fall guy by being killed by Bernie to tie up loose ends.
The femme fatale is typically a sexualized woman who plays the victim card to the protagonist before getting into a sexual relationship with them and as a result being able to exploit them into doing immoral tasks for them which will inevitably result in the protagonist being arrested or killed. In Drive, there is no femme fatale, in fact there is the opposite of a femme fatale in the form of Irene, an angelic figure who asks for nothing and is not exploitative or even sexualized. Despite this, Driver ends up making the sort of reckless choices that are typically orchestrated by a femme fatale not because of a feeling of lust for her, but instead just to save her because of her overwhelming innocence. However, what Driver eventually sacrifices and the acts he commits for Irene is a direct connection and homage to noir films of the past.
(Shot that highlights Irene’s innocence whilst reflecting Driver’s alternative personality and the dark nature of nightlife in cities)
The seeker hero is the most archetypal character type of the Noir film genre. Traditionally a detective or private eye who is hired to perform and investigation and eventually get entwined with criminal organizations and acts. Where he is atypical is his lack of speech and the fact that he acts with the best intentions and off his own accord, not being paid to perform the actions he eventually does. However, he is more like an archetypal seeker hero in some of his personality traits such as being: enigmatic, melancholy, alienated, and alone.
What I’ve learnt from my analysis of Drive is that having traditional character types and narratives being modernized creates an incredibly impactful text and as a result I will try to ensure that my Noir text is made up of both modern and traditional aspects. I also learnt how effective shadows can be if used appropriately and I will ensure that my text will feature effective shadow casting.
The link below is a link to a Prezi presentation I made about the research I executed into the history of Noir films and how the genre has transformed into the Neo-Noir genre.
Sources of research:
I executed some research into the history of film trailers and specifically 10 significant trailers that created innovative templates. Below is a link to an Adobe Spark that I made with my research.
We were given 5 minutes to come up with a concept for a Noir film and to make a film poster on Microsoft Word for said concept.
This is what I came up with in the time allocated to us. The reason behind why I chose the background picture was that not only is it something that would have been typical of film posters advertising Noir Films during the peak of their popularity in the late 1940s and early 50s, but also because one of the most significant aspects of the concept I created was the inclusion of a femme fatale, hence the use of a woman in centre frame. I also included other typical conventions of Noir Film posters such as bold titles and a small set of credits at the base of the poster.
I asked my teacher for feedback and I was told that the only aspect of the poster that may be an issue was the title, that having all of the font the same size and colour could lead to confusion as it wasn’t explicitly clear what was meant. Because of this, I made some minor changes to the text and made my second draft.
As you can see the only change that I made was making the text a smaller font size and a shade of red, I was happy with how the rest of the poster looked and didn’t see the need for any other immediate changes.
“Film Noir”- means ‘black film’ in French and is a category of films that were produced primarily in post-war America. These films typically explore bleak subject matter whilst creating a dark atmosphere of pessimism or oppression.
Stock narratives of Noir films– A man is persuaded through sexual manipulation to commit a crime, crime is plotted and committed and often results in both the man and the woman being killed or imprisoned.
– Referred to as ‘seeker hero’ noir films a private eye investigates crimes involving a sexually manipulative woman who acts as the victim, the private eye falls for her but before they are killed or manipulated they come to their senses and solve the crime and survive.
Typical themes of Noir films:
Character types of Noir films:
Seeker Hero (Private eye/detective)
Significant “Film noir” films:
Force of Evil-1948, MGM/Republic
Detour- 1945, DRC- released in post-war America, considered first film noir, initially critics refused to rate the film because it broke a rule of American cinema by not having a positive ending. Also established “fall guy” character type
Asphalt Jungle- 1950, MGM/Turner
Gun Crazy- 1950, UA/Warner Bros- first time button microphones were used
Kiss of Death- 1947, 20th century fox
Pick up on South Street- 1953, 20th Century fox
The Third Man- 1949, Lumiere Pictures
Night and the City- 1950, 20th Century Fox
Kiss me deadly- 1955, UE/MGM
Mean Streets- 1973, TPS/Universal- first film that tried to be a film noir in colour- directed by Martin Scorsese
Body Heat- 1981, Warner Bros
Quotes from documentary
“Sense of jeopardy and life which is what exists in all noir films”- Abraham Polonsky, director of Force of Evil
“He wrote with a meat cleaver… He wrote with a hatchet” Martin Goldsmith, writer of Detour, giving his opinion on James Cain
“The classic femme fatale for me is a woman that’s usually getting the man into bed and then into trouble” Marie Windsor, Actress
Important facts from documentary
More than a quarter of film noir films have a protagonist who identifies as a war veteran
Femme fatale was created as a result of a new breed of women who had worked during the war, creating a lack of need of a male in their lives as they’ve become independent. Very typical for a femme fatale to be filmed in a low angle before cutting to a man in a high angle, showcasing their dominance over the men
Because if the war and the development of faster film stocks, portable cameras, smaller dollies and contained lighting units made it possible to film at night and have precise control over light.
Venetian Blinds became very popular in the production of noir films as they were an effective and quick way to create an interesting and unusual lighting pattern. These had very interesting psychological effects depending on their application
After the war the German migrants who were cinematographers and writers brought with them traditional styles and techniques that were very different to those present in America at the time
We were assigned the task by our teacher to find two trailers of film noir, one from pre-1960 and one from post-1960, the effect this had was that it enabled us to get a better understanding of the genre and find reoccurring themes that we can eventually implement into our own concepts. The two film trailers I decided to compare were Murder My Sweet,d. Edward Dmytryk, 1944 and Drive d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011.
Given the difference of over 65 years between the production of both films there will be differences between the two given the technological development that has taken place in this time. The main similarities between the two trailers will be the iconography, narrative, themes and representations. In Murder My Sweet the character types are made very clear, the protagonist is the seeker hero, there is a femme fatale who exploits the seeker hero and gets them to his to do a task for her which results in him getting in deeper and deeper trouble. These same character types are not present or represented in the trailer for Drive. Ryan Gosling’s character, the protagonist, is not a seeker hero or a ‘fall guy’, which are both archetypal character types of the film noir genre, instead he is just presented as a normal person who has a dark side. The exploration of the darker side of a character who initial is presented as being a perfectly reasonable and respectable member of society is very typical of Noir films as it is very attractive for audiences. The reason behind this is that everyone has a dark side to them and so to see someone whose darker side is exposed and exploited so publicly creates a sense of suspense and interest that is the reason why Noir films have been so popular for over 65 years. The femme fatale is also not present in the trailer for Drive, in her place is a woman who is a victim and the only similarity between this vulnerable character type and the femme fatale is the sexual relationship between them and the protagonist and their plea for help, but in this scenario the appeal is genuine. As Murder My Sweet was released during a post-war period there was a great deal of censorship, which meant that directors of the time were not allowed to show graphic scenes of violence or even the demonstration of violent props such as guns. It is because of these limitations that films of the period had to suggest that these sort of props and sequences were taking place off-screen. An example of this is when the protagonist chokes another man to death, while the beginning of the killing is shown the shot becomes a low-angle shot of the protagonist mimicking chocking whilst his victim remains off-screen. With Drive the footage used is much rawer and graphic given the lack of limitations placed upon directors currently. In the trailer for Drive there are numerous graphic scenes of violence where all characters involved are coated in blood, there are 10 occasions when gun props are used and unlike the trailer for Murder My Sweet, the chocking scene in the trailer for drive is not suggested but rather clearly shown.
Given the difference in time between the production of the two films it is understandable that there would be few similarities in mise-en-scene given the change of fashion trends and the development of technology that have now become regular props in films as these pieces of portable technology have become part of our daily lives. However, the two similarities of mise-en-scene between the two trailer are to do with the location in which the film is set and the effective use of lighting. One of the staple points of the film Noir genre is that the story takes place in a major city, primarily with events unfolding during the night. The reason behind why this is done is that in the same way the dark sides of characters are explored the dark, cynical underbellies of major cities are showcased to create a sense of suspense and interest, because of this, in both trailers there are establishing shots of a neon lit city. The use of lighting in Noir films is critical, without an effective use of lighting a film cannot be considered to be of the film noir genre. In both trailers lighting is used to cast shadows over and under expose the protagonist, this is done to connote the two sides of the character, an innocent side that is well lit and a darker side that is ambiguous and cynical, always in shadows. The most common type of lighting used in noir films is known as Chiaroscuro lighting, which is an Italian term which means light and dark.
The difference between the two films with regards to editing is absolute given the development of technology, Drive features CGI and colour correction whereas Murder My Sweet feature next to no editing. Both trailers are similar with regards to sound as they both feature a narration from the protagonist with some non-diegetic music towards the end of the trailer.
To conclude, the narrative of film noir has stayed the same over time, being an exploration of the multiple personas, innocent and dark, of a protagonist while they are put in dangerous situations as a result of someone else’s actions. Where the modern film noir differs from those produced in the 1940s is the technology within them and the modernization of themes to ensure that it is relatable to current audiences ergo attracting a larger target audience and enabling for greater profit margins for the production and distribution companies.
1940s Post-war America, Private eye called by an ex-lover, asks for help finding her sister, during investigation the private eye is exploited by ex-lover before being sold out to gangsters who had the sister of the ex-lover captive. Femme fatale takes all of the belongings of the private eye, gets her sister back and gets the private eye killed.