A few months ago, on one of the first chilly evenings in New York, I got super dressed up and went out to dinner on a Saturday night with a crew of girlfriends. As women tended to do this fall, we started talking about the new Ryan Gosling film Drive. I hadn’t yet seen it but everyone else had. One of my friends, a glamorous lawyer and pop culture enthusiast recommended that I wait until it’s on demand so I could watch it in the privacy of my own home, so absorbing was the experience. “Here’s what happened to me,” she said, signaling for another round of tequila cocktails. “The entire time I was watching the movie I was giggling out of nervousness. Then, for the few hours after I was like, okay that was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I went home, bought the soundtrack and two or three days later I realized I had literally been listening to the same three or four songs in this Drive-induced haze. My sister, with whom I’d seen the film, texted me and was like, listen this is going to sound weird but I’ve been feeling really strange since we saw that movie.”
I finally saw it this week with about six other strangers in the middle of the day and am now totally in the midst of an all-consuming crush, like I’ve taken a time-release drug that lasts for days. I cancelled plans two nights in a row to stay home and google this movie, which, for the uninitiated, tells the story of Gosling’s character known only as the Driver, a laconic denim-clad stuntman by day and morally ambiguous getaway car driver by night. It’s like a blend between the melancholic interiority of Lost in Translation and the nihilistic antihero classic Le Samourai; Gosling has Alain Delon’s ability to portray emotional aloofness with almost unbearable pathos.
I know that the film was supposed to be a big budget action movie before Gosling became attached. I know he was allowed to pick the director and went with fringe Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn, who doesn’t drive and who cried when REO Speedwagon came on the radio while Gosling drove him home after their first meeting. I know that’s when they decided they could pull this off. I know they brought in Stephen Soderbergh’s soundtrack man Cliff Martinez to design that synthy, sexy engine-like throb that underscores the entire film. I know that they envisioned the movie as a “violent John Hughes” film. And that Gosling has said: “If there were head smashing in Sixteen Candles it would be a masterpiece.” I also know that Gosling is now reportedly dating Eva Mendes and that before I saw Drive I would have thought that was cute because I always liked her but now I feel irrationally irritated by her entire existence.
What has this movie done to me? To all of us? I decided to enlist help in finding out and at five in the morning earlier this week after asking for an extension on a piece of actual journalism then staying up all night re-watching that video where Gosling breaks up a street fight in the East Village I started emailing some friends.
“It’s appealing to both men and women,” says Amelia McDonnell-Parry, editor-in-chief at The Frisky and avowed Gosling obsessive. “It’s violent but not in that typically macho explosions-and-gun-fights sort of way.” Totally, but what about the lingering feeling of the film. You leave and it comes with you. I’m still having flashbacks. “It’s the best use of music in a film I’ve seen in a while,” emailed Dean Wareham of Luna and Dean and Britta, who has done lots of soundtrack work himself. “Music was featured, given its own time and space, and played loud. It’s one of those films where you sit and feel the music and images beam straight into the back of your mind.” His wife Britta, whom I’d gotten into a long champagne fueled gush session about Drive at a party, reiterated the film’s intoxicating “juxtaposition of brutality and romance.” And like Dean she was taken by the music, especially the way they re-play Desire’s “Under Your Spell.” “I still remember the feeling I had when the hook of the song repeated for the umpteenth time,” Britta emailed. “’There’s something about you / it’s hard to explain / they’re talking about you boy / but you’re still the same.’ Repeated only a few times, it wouldn’t have had the impact it did. The repetition along with the real-time slowness and lack of dialogue gave the film a really palpable space that I felt dizzy in.”
Right, so the music is amazing and the blend of violence and sex is intoxicating. The cinematography is stunning, the supporting actors are magic and Martinez is a genius but in the end it’s the Gosling Effect that transforms the film into some kind of visual/experiential crack. “Drive is like a private world you’ve stepped into and you don’t ever want to leave ’cause it’s full of Ryan Gosling,” enthused my friend at dinner. She’s right. The forces at work here are beyond all of our control.