Drive is the best David Lynch film not actually made by David Lynch

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

This film has absolutely no business being this good.

The marketing campaign makes Drive look like a Fast and Furious knockoff. Cars? Check. Heists? Check. Gangsters? Check.

Forget all that. Drive is an LA fever dream, a collision of the present with 1987’s collective unconscious. What is the film about? This picture tells you exactly what it’s about: looking behind you to move forward. The stasis that precedes the explosion.

Look closely.

The film is about an unnamed part-time Hollywood stunt driver and mechanic, who drives getaway cars for heists at night. But this is not a film about high speed car chases and explosive action. The driver is a study in self-control. Every word, movement and action is measured, deliberate, and almost ponderous. While his stunt driving is fast and wild, as the getaway car driver, driving is a matter of precision and planning. Everything is planned in advance, the routes rehearsed, the traffic light timing memorized. He escapes crime scenes by hiding in plain sight, melting into the animal that is Los Angeles traffic.

And Los Angeles plays a big part in this movie, but it is not the Los Angeles of Fast and Furious or of Michael Mann. Drive is set in David Lynch’s LA–in the spaces between the famous places. Drive is LA viewed obliquely, where the familiar becomes either transcendent or grotesque. For example, you might expect that a film about heists and cars would include a scene in the iconic LA River. After all, nearly every action film set in LA has had a pivotal car chase scene there: Terminator 2, Gone in 60 Seconds, Transformers and Transformers 2, Grease, Chinatown, and The Italian Job just to name a few. But the drive along the LA River in Drive is not a chase. It is literally a carefree afternoon drive. Only it ends someplace completely unexpected, where the concrete river bed ends abruptly, interrupted by an unexpected but beautiful oasis:

An oasis in the middle of the LA River.

This is the wild reclaiming the geography: where man built a river, nature built a dam. It’s one of many examples in Drive of reality unexpectedly interrupting Hollywood cliches in much the same way as the severed ear interrupting the hackneyed establishing shot of idyllic suburbia in Blue Velvet.

The fantastic soundtrack by Cliff Martinez contributes to the haunting, eerie, Lynchian tone of the film, as does the score by Angelo Badalamenti (who scored a number of Lynch’s films). In a way, we are listening in on the driver’s car stereo. The music is part of the storytelling, and if you simply let it wash over you, you are missing out.

But what makes the film particularly compelling is its transgressive nature. Like many of his contemporaries in Europe, Drive‘s director Nicolas Winding Refn makes a point to show the audience the human body as an object rather than as a person. It isn’t sufficient to shoot someone in the head off-camera and scatter some drops of blood on the wall. No, Refn patiently shows us the head exploding, the blood sloshing everywhere and soaking everything. In this regard, Refn is like Michael Haenke. For this crop of European directors, people exist only in emotions and dialogue, but bodies aren’t people. Bodies are props made of meat to be bashed and broken and bloodied unapologetically. By showing us explicit violence rather than giving us Hollywood-style violence in a film where the main character’s job is to create Hollywood violence, Refn is depriving the audience of the titillation that audiences get during the gunfights or car chases. Refn has made Hollywood violence repulsive again. But for the audience, is that good or bad?

This makes me wonder if the marketing campaign, which presents the movie as something of an standard action film, was deliberately misleading. I wonder if Refn lured audiences in with the implied promise of phony violence that would be exciting and kinetic, only to stun them with arresting and realistic violence. When there’s blood, it splatters everywhere and on everyone, mostly the audience.

I’ll end this now to avoid spoilers, but I will add that if Drive has a failing, it is the ending, in which the director took the road most traveled by. But like many of David Lynch’s films, the story in Drive isn’t meant to be as captivating or impressive as it’s telling. The end of the road isn’t as important as the journey, and the sights and sounds along the way.  

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13 Responses to Drive is the best David Lynch film not actually made by David Lynch

  1. eqv says:

    A reeeeeeeeallll huumaaaann beeeeinnng…

  2. DonDrapersAcidTrip says:

    “The fantastic soundtrack by Cliff Martinez contributes to the haunting, eerie, Lynchian tone of the film, as does the score by Angelo Badalamenti (who scored a number of Lynch’s films). ”

    Badalamenti didn’t have anything to do with the score. He’s only listed in the credits on the unfinished workprint that’s available on the internet, which is really no way to see the movie. Effects are unfinished, the sounds all wrong. I hope you just downloaded that to snap some screenshots.

  3. textstring says:

    “Valhalla Rising,” by the same director, is also a ridiculously good and brooding art film that looks like a dumb action movie. The same form of brutally realistic violence is present, more so in fact, in that film as well.

    • suicism says:

      Agreed. I first saw the poster to VH and thought it was going to be something like Gladitor, but with vikings. I have never been so happy to be wrong.

  4. textstring says:

    The “Ostensibly Suspicious And Morally Ambiguous Terminator” is and was always still the “The Man With No Name,” though, Pastabagel.

  5. textstring says:

    In that sense, it’s like Leoni fucked Lynch and “Drive” popped out. I think I have that analogy in proper order.

  6. textstring says:


  7. textstring says:

    Damn it. Leone.

    “Where’s the God damn edit function!?!”

  8. Great movie.

    Re: the music– “in a way, we are listening to the driver’s car stereo.” It may be even deeper than that. When Standard comes home and they have a party for him, you see The Driver in his apartment working on an engine part, and the movie’s soundtrack is playing as they cut back and forth between the two apartments.

    But then the Driver leaves his apartment, and as he steps outside into the hallway, the music is “coming from” the apartment; he closes the door, and the same soundtrack that you’ve been listening to is muffled by the closed door.

    So up to that point, the movie is a peek into the main character’s worldview. Everything is his perspective, his reality, and the music is in his head but you can hear it. But once he’s in love, symbolized by that apartment scene, the world starts to exist outside of him. He has to live his life for someone else, someone else takes on a whole reality outside him (hence the song “Real Hero”).

    So when he leaves his apartment, the movie becomes about love, and stops being about “the main character”– symbolized by the music leaving his own head (background soundtrack) and remaining in the apartment as he closes the door.

    And yes, the director did do this intentionally.

    • textstring says:

      That was ridiculously spot on and observant, TheLastPsychiatrist. You are absolutely correct.

    • Or says:

      After reading this PO post I decided to watch the movie and then I noticed this quote from Ryan Gosling on the film’s Wikipedia page, zeroing in on classic TLP themes and suggesting that the simulacrum really has come full circle:

      “Basically when I read it, in trying to figure out who would do something like this, the only way to make sense of this is that this is a guy that’s seen too many movies, and he’s started to confuse his life for a film. He’s lost in the mythology of Hollywood and he’s become an amalgamation of all the characters that he admires.”

      But I thought he was refreshingly well-grounded in his actual circumstances compared to movie characters I’ve gotten used to seeing lately. He was too good at what he does. As Pastabagel pointed out, he knows the difference between stunt work and getaway driving. If he were too busy second-guessing his authenticity he would have been busted on his first job.

  9. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    REAL HUMAN BEING. Excellent film.

  10. AndradaeSilva says:

    From the top comment on youtube for “A Real Hero”:

    “The people who under rate this movie is because they expected to see a movie with alot of car chases and speeding because of it’s name. I myself was also misled, but if you pay closer attention its also and more about a persons motivation (drive) to protect others at all cost whom he cares and loves for a great deal. When movies are not so clear cut they are usually great movies. Because of the combination of violence with tranquility which some see as imperfection also makes this a great movie.”
    – bkewl321

    … and good observation, Alone.