In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Drive, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Ryan Gosling – The Driver
- Carey Mulligan – Irene Gabriel
- Bryan Cranston – Shannon
- Albert Brooks – Bernie Rose
- Oscar Isaac – Standard Gabriel
- Christina Hendricks – Blanche
- Ron Perlman – Nino ‘Izzy’ Paolozzi
- Kaden Leos – Benicio Gabriel
- James Biberi – Chris Cook
- Jeff Wolfe – Assassin In The Tan Suit
- Russ Tamblyn – Doc
- Andy San Dimas – Dancer
- Hossein Amini – Writer
- Nicolas Winding Refn – Director
Important motifs in Drive
The Scorpion and the Frog
The story of the scorpion and the frog, referenced through The Driver’s scorpion-embroidered jacket, is a powerful motif in Drive. This fable, about a scorpion that stings a frog even though it means certain death for both of them, is emblematic of the immutable nature of character. The Driver, like the scorpion, is bound by his inherent nature. Despite his attempts to foster a normal, peaceful life with Irene and Benicio, his violent past and innate characteristics constantly pull him back. This motif is especially poignant in the climactic scene where The Driver confronts Bernie, knowing well that it may lead to his own demise. The scorpion on his jacket serves as a constant reminder of this inexorable truth about human nature.
“A Real Hero”
The song “A Real Hero” by College and Electric Youth serves as a recurring musical motif in Drive, providing an auditory mirror to The Driver’s character evolution and his complex relationship with Irene and Benicio. Its two significant occurrences in the movie underscore different stages in The Driver’s journey, creating a poignant resonance between the melody and the narrative.
During its first occurrence, the song underscores a moment of idyllic respite in The Driver’s life. As he drives through the Los Angeles River concrete bed with Irene and Benicio, the lyrics “A real human being, and a real hero” highlight his aspiration for a normal, peaceful life. At this point in the film, The Driver is shown to be striving for human connection and to be a heroic figure in the lives of Irene and Benicio. This scene is imbued with a sense of tranquility and hope, reinforced by the uplifting melody and lyrics of the song, suggesting the potential for The Driver to change his life trajectory.
In stark contrast, the second instance of the song during the final scene of the film serves as a poignant counterpoint to the earlier moment of hope. The Driver, now wounded and driving away into the night, embodies the lyrics of the song in a much more complex way. The song now underscores his solitude and sacrifice, highlighting the tragic paradox of his journey. He has become the hero he aspired to be for Irene and Benicio, but in doing so, he has isolated himself from them forever.
The stopwatch The Driver uses in his jobs is a recurring motif that signifies precision, control, and the fleeting nature of time. It underscores The Driver’s meticulous nature and his ability to manipulate time to his advantage, as evident in the opening getaway scene. However, it also serves as a reminder of the transitory nature of his peaceful moments with Irene and Benicio. The stopwatch, therefore, becomes a symbol of his dual existence: a precision tool for his criminal activities and a metaphorical ticking clock for his ephemeral happiness.
Cars and Driving
Cars and driving form a central motif in the film, representing freedom, control, and escape. The Driver’s skills behind the wheel are his greatest asset, allowing him to navigate the dangerous world of crime. Cars offer him control, a space where he excels, and a means to escape when situations spiral out of control. However, in the film’s conclusion, the car also becomes a symbol of his isolation as he drives off into the night, leaving behind a chance at a normal life.
The motif of masks in Drive symbolizes duality and hidden identities. The Driver dons a mask during his stunt driving jobs, signifying the dichotomy between his public and private personas. The mask hides his true identity, creating a clear division between his work and personal life. This motif is effectively employed during the scene in which he confronts Nino, wearing a mask to hide his identity, emphasizing the sinister side of his character that he often keeps concealed.
The City at Night
The depiction of Los Angeles at night is another recurring motif in Drive. The city’s neon-lit nightscape reflects the darker, hidden aspects of the characters’ lives. The seedy underbelly of the city mirrors The Driver’s clandestine activities and underscores the dichotomy between his quiet, daytime existence and his high-octane, dangerous nocturnal life. This motif comes full circle in the film’s final scene, where he drives off into the night, symbolizing his acceptance of his dual existence and the enigmatic nature of his life.
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