I was sitting in the middle of a film marketing class last year when my professor started class with his weekly catch-up: What did movies did you guys see this week? The girl sitting behind me boasted that she’d gotten an advanced screening to Drive and that it was her favorite film of the year so far. A friend of mine turned around and gushed about how desperate he was to see it. She replied that it was mandatory to see in theaters, even going as far to suggest which theaters within a ten-mile radius were the best. Her criteria for such fastidiousness was not the picture, but the sound. To be frank, I’m not an audio expert and I’ve deliberately stayed away from sound design classes because the technicalities terrify me. I took her enthusiasm to mean that she was just an enthusiast of all things auditory and found this film to be exemplary in that arena. Still, I took her words into account thinking that there were gonna be some amazing sound effects… or something.
Turns out, she was all gussied about the soundtrack – and she was so right. I’ve now had a chance to take in the film through a variety of outlets and nothing has compared to sitting in the middle of movie theater and letting that pulsating soundtrack engulf you. You know that scene in Amélie where she sits gaping up at the cinema screen, transported into the film? Yeah, that was me sitting and watching Drive for the first time. I’d heard intrusive soundtracks (Sucker Punch), and the unashamedly conspicuous (Juno), but nothing as surprising and equally perfect as the deep, palpable tones of Drive. I’ve never actually felt so entranced by a film solely through sound before; it’s almost mind-blowing.
Witnessing Ryan Gosling’s blank yet intriguing face as he stares off into whatever deep thoughts have penetrated his mind through a mostly silent prism is odd, fascinating, and off-putting, all in one. But when the synth and bass kicks in, it’s like entering a world that you really have no right to bear witness to. There’s something about the mix of grime and kitsch that the music so perfectly captures that makes Drive such an engrossing experience. It’s unashamed and so deliberate in its message and tone that you can’t help but “get it.”
It’s like, in one quick second, you too can go around L.A. kicking ass and taking names in a vaguely psychopathic way. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Not that I had those specific dreams, per se, but I certainly imagined myself doing something that this version of myself would not do. The details of which remain confidential. Okay, in a bad-ass nutshell, Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” turns me into one-part stripper (the classy kind, obviously) and one-part hired assassin. There’s a real and powerful sordidness to the song that introduces us to Gosling’s loner hero. He prowls around town at night and comes home to his empty apartment, carrying little baggage around with him.
While “Nightcall” provides the grime, College’s “A Real Hero” provides the kitsch. It’s essentially the Driver’s theme. It’s who he truly is; a good guy with the best of intentions. This is the good that we’re supposed to identify with not the vulgar affairs that spoke to my messed up mind. This is where the film grounds its 80s homage. This one song sets up an entire motif throughout the film. It’s vaguely optimistic and endearing and carries a pretty obvious message that is placed in juxtaposition with the Driver’s more questionable actions. Each song is a reflection of the Driver and all his terrifying and lovable sides. The soundtrack is the meditation of an emotional man, for sure, he just doesn’t know how to show it – and that’s where the music comes in.