Drive‘ is a 2011 film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, and starring Ryan Gosling as the eponymous driver, with Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks. Although ‘Drive’ shares several characteristics with the similarly-named 1978 Walter Hill car-chase film, ‘The Driver,’ it is actually adapted from the 2005 James Sallis novel of the same name, with a screenplay by Hossein Amini.

Like the book, the movie is about a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver. The director has said influences came from ‘Bullitt’ (1968) and ‘The Day of the Locust’ (1975); and that ‘Drive’ was a tribute to cult film legend Alejandro Jodorowsky and shares some of his existentialist themes.

The film was made on a production budget of about $13 million and shot in various parts of Los Angeles, California. Locations were picked by Refn while Gosling drove him around the city at night. Under Refn’s request, Los Angeles was picked as the shooting site due to budget concerns. Its opening chase scene involving Gosling’s character was primarily filmed by Refn within the car’s interior. In an interview, Refn revealed the idea for this was to execute a ‘dive-ration of sharks,’ which involves never leaving the vehicle during a car chase so that the audience can see what’s happening from the character’s point of view. One scene in the film that has no dialog is the elevator sequence, an example of how the film conveys ideas and emotions through images rather than words. For the segment, he spoke to Gaspar Noé and about the head-smashing scene in ‘Irréversible’ (2002). Crossing the line from romance to violence, the scene starts off with The Driver and Irene tenderly kissing. What they share is really a goodbye kiss, as he then becomes a ‘werewolf,’ violently stomping the hit-man’s head in. It is during this scene that Irene begins see The Driver in a new light.

Consistent with Refn’s usual visual style, wide-angle lenses were heavily used by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. Handheld camerawork was avoided. Although many stunt drivers are credited, Gosling did a number of stunts himself, after completing a stunt driving car crash course. During production, Gosling re-built the 1973 Chevrolet Malibu used in the film, taking it apart and putting it back together. Refn filmed ‘Drive’ with an Arri Alexa camera, a film-style digital motion picture camera. While Drive is set in the present day, it carries a heavy 1980s atmosphere that is cautiously set from beginning to end and is underlined not only by the vehicles or music and clothes, but also by its architecture. The parts of the city seen in the Valley and by downtown Los Angeles are cheap stucco and mirrored glass, which has been carefully edited to leave out newer buildings.

A character study, themes ‘Drive’ examines consist of ‘loyalty, loneliness and the dark impulses that rise up even when we try our hardest to suppress them.’ It combines comic gore, film noir and B-movie aesthetics, and Hollywood spectacle, resulting in ‘a bizarre concoction…reminiscent of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive…Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and [with] angst-laden love scenes that would not be out of place in a Scandinavian drama.’ Other comparisons have been to the works of Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Michael Mann, Nathanael West, J.G. Ballard and Mike Davis. ‘Drive’ also references 1970s and 1980s cult hits such as ‘The Day of the Locust’ (1975) and ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ (1985). Other influences can be seen in the neon-bright opening credits and the retro soundtrack – ‘a mix of tension-ratcheting synthesizer tones and catchy club anthems that collectively give the film its consistent tone.’ Drive’s title sequence is hot-pink, which was inspired by 1983’s ‘Risky Business.’

Refn’s main inspiration for ‘Drive’ came from fairy tales, and his goal was to make a movie structured like one: condensed in its storytelling and with archetypal characters. Refn sees The Driver as a knight who roams around the countryside searching for people to save. To play with the common theme of fairytales, The Driver protects what is good while at the same time killing degenerate people in violent ways. Refn was also inspired by films such as ‘Point Blank’ (1969), ‘Two-Lane Blacktop’ (1971), and ‘The Driver’ (1978). Jean-Pierre Melville’s crime productions influenced the cinematography. Amini’s script propensity imposes ‘a kind of sideways moral code,’ where even those who comply with it are almost never are rewarded for their efforts, as seen when The Driver helps Shannon with Irene and her son’s best interests in mind. Within their vehicle’s, the characters not only make escapes or commit murder, but try to obtain peace and search for romance.

The film’s main character, The Driver, has been compared to the Man With No Name, a character Clint Eastwood portrayed in the Sergio Leone westerns, because he almost never speaks and communicates mostly non-verbally. The Driver’s meager dialogue is not designed to present him as tough, but to soften him. Refn chose to give The Driver very little dialogue and instead have him drive around listening to pop music, taking control when it counts. What The Driver lacks in psychology, he makes up through action and stylish costuming. The Driver’s wardrobe was inspired by the band KISS and Kenneth Anger’s 1964 experimental film ‘Scorpio Rising.’ He wears a satin jacket with a logo of a golden scorpion; Refn sees the former as the character’s armor and the logo a sign of protection.

According to reviewer Peter Canavese, the jacket is a reference to the fable of the scorpion and the frog, mentioned in the movie, which in turn evokes the use of the fable in the Orson Welles film ‘Mr. Arkadin.’ In the fable, a scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature to sting. The fable is used to illustrate the position that the behavior of some creatures is irrepressible, no matter how they are treated and no matter what the consequences.

Most of its ethereal electronic-pop score was composed by Cliff Martinez. The score contains tracks with vintage keyboards and bluntly descriptive titles. Refn wanted electronic music for the film and to have the music occasionally be abstract so viewers can see things from The Driver’s perspective. He gave composer Martinez a sampling of songs he liked and asked Martinez to emulate the sound, resulting in ‘a kind of retro, 80ish, synthesizer europop.’ Editor Matt Newman suggested ‘Drive’s’ opening credits song – ‘Nightcall’ by French electronic musician Kavinsky. As Refn was going through mixer Johnny Jewel’s catalog, he picked out ‘Under Your Spell’ and ‘A Real Hero’ because he thought of ‘Drive’ being a fairytale. During Drive’s climax, ‘A Real Hero’s’ keynote melody, about becoming ‘a real human being, and a real hero,’ refrains because that is when The Driver changes into both those status.’


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