Drive: Philosophy of the Driver
In 2011’s “Drive”, the nameless hero has chosen getaway driving as an emotional release. In the opening scene, the driver seems less interested in helping the two criminal passengers pull off a successful heist as he is in engaging the police in a high speed chase. This is where Driver gets to flex his muscles, strategically and confidently maneuvering in and out of the streets of Los Angeles. His talent as a getaway driver seems to ignore speed and instead relies on wits; hiding under overpasses, stalking behind a police cruiser, and using a parking garage as his ultimate exit.
What compels the Driver? To suggest that Driver has been emotionally damaged, has dished out violence, or has had his life threatened earlier in life would be too simplistic and easy for such a complex and enigmatic figure in cinema. And his actions throughout the film would imply that if anything, he is a psychopath on his own recognizance. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review of “Drive”, this is a man who is defined entirely by his actions.
Despite his talent, skill, and apparent love for getaway driving, our antihero has a deep hatred for professional criminals. His distrust is evident when first meeting Bernie Rose, the film’s villain. Bernie extends a hand to greet the Driver, as the two are about to embark on a business relationship. Driver coldly and purposely hesitates, exhibiting aloofness in the face of a dangerous gangster. The two finally shake, and Driver walks off in silence. There’s a similar distance that Driver builds when the two meet for a second time. Our hero’s experience in dealing with these types has informed him of their danger.
The tragedy that ensues in the second and third act are like the realization of his worst nightmares. A reality he knows is close at all times when you invite the mob into your life. Driver’s hatred of criminals is a byproduct of his deep passion and respect for life; for living.
A criminal lifestyle are at odds with that philosophy. Notice his actions in the elevator, which begin as self defense and protection for himself, and Irene. The beat down quickly escalates to extreme and unnecessary brutality, ultimately crushing the assassin’s face in with the heel of his boot. Or the diner scene, where a former customer attempts to recruit Driver for a second job. The consistently mute hero looks over and cuts him off saying the now infamous line “Hey, shut your mouth. Or I’ll kick your teeth down your throat and shut it for you.”
Driver’s eyes reveal a man who is bound to keep his promise. It’s the most alarming moment of the film. Driver moves through the film almost entirely quiet but felt strong enough about the situation to extend a very vocal threat. It’s an incredibly eerie moment and acts as our first glimpse into a man willing to become violent, to protect his own wellbeing and freedom.
Indeed, Driver has passion and love for life. You can see it when he threatens the thief at the diner, in his soft smiles towards Irene or her son, Benicio, when he drowns Nino. You can see it when he finds Shannon’s corpse. Driver has a strong stomach but a thin skin.
Moreover, he understands the significance and beauty in the family unit. Despite his apparent love for Irene, the two grow warm but he is never physical with her (knowing she has a man in her life who is currently in prison).
Notice that when Driver arrives to find Standard beaten, he charges past the wounded man to console his son. Likewise, when he learns that Benicio was threatened in the midst of Standard’s predicament, Driver against his own foresight, decides to help in the heist.
This brings us to the dinner scene; a montage of sorts. You can see the wheels turning in Driver’s head. Standard reminisces about meeting Irene and the birth of Benicio. Driver, silently listens, giving a soft and uncomfortable smirk, knowing that there is great love in this family unit, and it is his duty to help protect it. It’s decision making like this that would inform us that “Drive”, amongst many things, is a classic story of good and evil. Director Nicolas Refn has described his film as a fairy tale.
To speculate as to why Driver has such an intense and attentive passion for life and the family unit, would likely be an exercise in futility. Little is known or implied about his past excluding one or two lines of dialogue. He is an angelic and superhero like protector of life and all that is good.
Driver is simply a man who loves being alive. In the aftermath of killing Bernie, Driver sits in his Supersport, clenching what appears to be a life-threatening stab wound. Blood seeps between his fingers, trickles down to his boot, stains his battle worn scorpion jacket. The camera moves up, stopping on an elongated close-up of his lifeless face. An eternity passes, before a simple and slow blink. His eyes shut, staying closed, with a soft smile of relief appearing on his face. Driver is alive. And that’s good enough for him.