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From Under A Rock: Drive

March 26, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Ryan Gosling
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From Under A Rock: Drive  


This week’s pick, as I (Michael) mentioned last week, holds a special place in my heart: it’s the very first movie as an adult that I made the decision to see completely blind — I avoided a trailer and didn’t even really want to know the premise. All I knew was that my film school friends liked it and that Ryan Gosling was in it. Literally nothing else. It’s a policy I’ve since instituted whenever I can get away with it, as I think it has changed the way I experience film ever since. I get to watch movies the way the writer intended, not the way the studio chose to market it.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron showed Michael the OG Batman vs. Superman with the World’s Finest arc of Superman: The Animated Series. This week Michael drives Aaron around the block to take him out from under the proverbial rock with Drive.

Released: September 16th, 2011
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Ryan Gosling as The Driver
Carey Mulligan as Irene
Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose
Ron Perlman as Nino
Bryan Cranston as Shannon
Oscar Isaac as Standard Gabriel
Christina Hendricks as Blanche

Michael Ornelas:I didn’t realize that this was a movie more intended for film geeks than the average Joe, but when I asked people around my workplace this past week if they had seen Drive, almost half of them revealed that they had “started it, got bored, and turned it off.” It was interesting to me because I find even the “slow” moments completely riveting because there’s an intensity to its silence. Also, I picked this simply because it’s been way too long since I last rewatched it, and any excuse to do so is a good one!

Aaron Hubbard: And I’m glad that you picked it. Drive is a movie that I’ve heard about for years but never got around to seeing, partly because its reputation actually scared me off a bit. But nowadays this sort of filmmaking (minimal plot and script, but rich in symbolism and double meanings) is something that I’m fascinated by. As long as I’m not tired. Drive is a movie that I had to sit on for a couple of days before really deciding how I felt about it, but it’s probably my pick for “Best Movie of 2011”.
I Drive
Michael: Some people don’t like the fact that Gosling’s character doesn’t have a name. He’s simply accredited as The Driver, and I love it. Everything about his character is one with his profession. It defines who he is. When he’s not driving, he’s stoic and appears to not fully be himself, and that’s by design. There’s something to that. Most movies chose to give their characters a more standalone identity with some texture, but not Drive. That’s not to say he’s not a rich, deep character, but he definitely comes across as simplistic. There’s so much more to him though — a deep affection for Irene, whose criminal ex-husband (Standard Gabriel) he assists in a robbery just to make sure she’s going to be safe. He’s paternal as well, as he’s great with their kid. But at his core, he’s a decent human being in a dirty world who is synonymous with what he does.

Aaron: Actually, I think I would have to disagree with you on that. I think the Driver would like to be a decent person. But he’s a product of the environment he’s been in. He’s just good enough to be bothered by the life he lives. He knows his “hands are dirty”, he knows that he’s a bad guy like the ones the kid sees on TV. Even the good things in his life are a married woman he’s sleeping with, and when he starts doing “good” deeds he’s just killing people. People who probably deserve it, sure, but it’s not like we’re dealing with Captain America here.

Michael: Fair point. All I’m driving at (sorry) is that his heart is in the right place, and that’s not necessarily something you’d expect from someone in his line of work. “What do you get out of it?” had the best response in the movie by The Driver: “Just that: out of it.” He leaves a trail of bodies in his path and may very well be driving until he dies of blood loss at the end of the film, but he wants to go straight, and I think he accomplishes that. I truly believe that he was in a place where he wouldn’t have been drawn back in, even though he lost the girl. But he still has his true love: driving.
The Scorpion and the Frog
Aaron: The first meaningful image we see in Drive is the Driver’s jacket, which has a scorpion design that is totally badass. But rarely are costumes designed just to look cool, and once the movie started moving along and I started noticing how little bits of dialogue would have greater meaning, I began to wonder what exactly was the significance of the scorpion. Than the movie flat out tells us by referencing the old fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, where the Scorpion stings a frog that’s carrying it across water, causing them both to drown. Why? Because it’s in their nature. This really stuck with me in the amazing elevator scene, where the Driver kisses Irene long and slow, knowing that this is the last time she’ll ever see him as a decent human being. He’s killing the relationship, because he’s toxic and everything around him suffers throughout the movie.

Michael: It’s subtle until that scene, but I think we start to associate him with a scorpion way before they tell us. I completely agree that his arc is taking everything down with him. Shannon, his relationship with Irene, and his final encounter with Bernie Rose all adhere to this logic. Another quality about scorpions that holds true for The Driver is their calm until they sting. We don’t truly see him lose his cool until Blanche double-crosses him, which led to Standard’s demise. He smacks her and shows us this ugly side of him that we had never seen, but had always suspected was there. Not one who’s very well-versed in astrology, I decided to look up qualities of the Scorpio, and here’s what I found (source: It fits The Driver to a tee:

”The Scorpio-born are extremely mysterious individuals. They have strong will power and possess the capability to turn the tables around, whichever way they desire. Nonetheless, they have extremely distinct outer appearance. Their sound, isolated inner worlds are frequently storming with perpetual force. Most Scorpio natives are questioning and possessive, and they can’t digest treachery or the slightest hint of no, in their stride. The Scorpio sting is widely known, and even the most diplomatic Scorpio will fall prey to one of his/ her extreme, vindictive moods. Nevertheless, the Scorpio owns a magnetic charm that leaves many an admirer smitten. In love, Scorpio makes for a loving, faithful yet deeply possessive or jealous partners.”

I feel the qualities mentioned above are driving forces for the character, and it’s that mystery surrounding him that draws me into the movie and immerses me.

Aaron: As a Scorpio myself, I don’t know how to take that… but one other thing that occured to me as I was digesting this film was that maybe the Driver isn’t just the Scorpion. After all, he has a scorpion on his back too. So I think the jacket is a symbol of his profession and all of the things that go with it. He trusts in his job, he enjoys it, but in the end it stings him perhaps worse than anyone.
Beautifully Shot
Michael: And I’m not just referring to Christina Hendricks’ head. This is one of the modern visual masterpieces. Every frame is composed to tell a story. Aaron pointed out differences in lighting to differentiate between characters within the same shot, and some of my favorite moments are ones where the background, foreground, and focal point all show very different things but work together to tell a unique story, such as when you see The Driver in his rubber mask through the door window of Nino’s pizza place. The slow push really builds an atmosphere of all the different components to the shot, and Nicolas Winding Refn (the director) really should have at least been nominated for an Academy Award. There are so many fresh and original shots in this movie that you can pause at almost any moment and find art within whatever you’re looking at.

Aaron: I can’t argue that point. I feel like I could probably watch this film several times and notice new things about how it’s shot and find little things that I enjoyed. For me the most prevalent thing was how the director kept distance between the Driver and Irene, even when they were only a few feet from each other. A really cool scene that you alluded to had the Driver and Irene in different lighting, but what really stood out to me was how the corner of the walls made a line that formed a visual barrier between the two. Much like its central character, Drive is meticulous about getting everything just perfect.

Michael: There’s an emotion behind every shot that makes my favorite shot in the movie a relatively boring one because it’s packed with intensity — it’s a single on The Driver as he’s in a bar, and a guy sasses him, and he explodes on him, telling the guy to leave. In the grand scheme of the movie, it’s nothing, but the director (and editor) never strayed from the intensity on Gosling’s face. The shot in question was 38 seconds long, had one line, and had me on the edge of my seat. That’s how effective filmmaking is supposed to work and why Drive is truly a visual treat.

Aaron: I won’t go so far as saying that I was surprised that I loved this movie, based on its reputation as a critical darling. But I will say I didn’t expect how this movie was going to go and the reasons I would love it. It’s smart and patient and layered, and respects the intelligence of the viewer. I loved this movie, and I feel like I will probably like it more each time I see it. But for now, it gets a near-perfect grade.


Michael: A visual masterpiece with a patient, reserved pace that really allows its viewers to suck in whatever it is they’re seeing, Drive didn’t quite get as much credit as it should have. Gosling is magnetic, the supporting cast is fantastic, and the action sequences went big, with some of the most violent moments I’ve ever seen captured on film and some truly amazing stunt driving. It’s not a perfect movie, but there is so much working in its favor that it comes damn close.


Did Nino’s pizza look good to you too? Let us know!

Next week:
Aaron: So next week’s pick is actually something that was chosen for me a few years ago by a friend, and is one of her personal favorite movies. It’s a great emotional ride with truly gorgeous cinematography.
Michael: I know next to nothing about this movie, but I know it was talked about in its year’s award season, so I’m excited to see it!

Aaron: I think it plays very well for American audiences because it’s a fascinating look at a different culture, but is surprisingly easy to relate to. And it’s just a well made movie.

What would your memoirs be about?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In the debut episode, Michael reviews The X-Files: The Collector’s Set on blu-ray. What will the wheel land on? Hint: it’s self defense. Watch Michael fend for his life from a seasoned martial artist while equipped with nothing but the complete box set for this sci-fi classic series!

Catch Aaron’s new weekly comics column, where he posted his thoughts about Batman v. Superman before seeing it. Is he excited? Is he worried? Can he correctly use “its” or “it’s” in a sentence even once? Find out!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Nicolas Winding Refn's superbly-constructed thriller is a master class in cinematography, atmosphere and character development. Ryan Gosling gives the performance of his career as The Driver, a bad man in a rough world trying to find some good in it. It's dark, it's gritty, but it's also intelligent and almost manages to be sweet at times. It gets a strong recommendation from the both of us to check out, probably multiple times.