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.