In the film Drive directed by Nicolas Winding Refn a sudden act of violence by protagonist, Driver, is an interesting surprise. The build-up, kiss, bashing and exit involved in the scene of the incident help us to understand the character of Driver. The visual and oral features of camera shots, dialogue and lighting are used to create a surrealist incident.
The Driver’s romantic love affair with Irene and his care for her young child sets the film as a romance and a drama, as the love he experiences for the two, both Platonic and Eros, ultimately leads him to unleash his true beast though he attempts so hard to hide it in everyday life.
The lifestyle he has chosen for himself prior to Irene inevitably arises once the mafia he crosses paths with leads to violence of the most cinematic type while invoking elements of suspense within each beat. In the film we see four key elevator scenes that display the development of the bond between Driver (Ryan Gosling) and Irene (Carey Mulligan), his innocent looking neighbour. The build-up to the incident is where Irene slaps Driver after his pathetic attempt to communicate. They then both enter the elevator where a man in a tan suit stands.
Frequently used in this scene are over the shoulder shots and close ups. Very rarely are there cuts to mid-shots which would break continuity. When Irene slaps Driver; the camera cuts to a mid-shot to show the momentum of the action. The second time this happens is when the man in the tan suit is introduced into the scene. The mid-shot reveals the character to the audience and states his importance. Once in the elevator, low angle shots are used. These create a claustrophobic atmosphere for the audience.
It also allows the suspicion Driver has towards the man in the tan suit to be built up. Close ups are used to show the raw emotion between the two characters as well as creating tension when Driver notices the gun the man is carrying, hidden under his jacket. This is a cinematic technique where props are exaggerated by the shot type. When Irene steps into the elevator, Driver first left to stare at the man in the tan suit. This makes the audience feel uncomfortable as the empty space is awkward and implies something bad is going to happen.
The immediate suspicion Driver has towards the man in the suit leads him to be wary over him. Driver’s ability to place this suspicion we can assume has most likely stemmed from his past which is unknown to the audience as nothing about Driver’s past is revealed. However, we can assume that this The build-up to the entrance of the elevator is then followed by the kiss between Driver and Irene. While the elevator descends, Driver notices the gun in the jacket pocket of the man in the tan suit.
All sound ceases as Driver reaches his hand behind him to where Irene stands and pushes her back. As he does the lights dim and focus between Driver’s face and Irene’s face. The dark and light shading on their heads is reminiscent of French poetic-realism and is used to show the audience that Driver has both a good and bad side. This scene is also shot in slow motion which not only adds a sense of surrealism to the scene but also shows how both characters savour the kiss.
Both the pacing and the lighting shift gears as Driver realizes the potential danger her and Irene are in. The average elevator lighting changes to a dark-lit environment which spotlights Driver and Irene specifically, isolating them almost completely from the rest of reality. The sound is back and we’re in the midst of some raucous violence: a pair of hollow, crashing sounds as Driver smashes the hit man’s head into the elevator walls; then more clunking as he falls to the ground and Driver starts stomping on his head, once, twice, three times, with his boot.
The sound of leather on skin shifts as the assault goes on toward a blend of moisture and crunch. At the 12th stomp, it’s clear from the audio that bones are breaking, and by the end of the sequence, after 15 seconds and 17 stomps, the dry and featureless thud has been transformed into a deathly squish. The elevator doors slide open again, with the same faint squeak they did before—Bender calls this a “sonic signature”—and Irene flees into the garage. The incident ends with a close-up of Driver’s jacket with the gold scorpion on the back.
A scorpion is seen as dangerous and deadly. However, in the same way that a scorpion in the wild remains hidden from view and only attacks when threatened, the same can be said for Driver. Driver worked in a garage, lived alone in a small, dingy apartment, but attacked violently when he felt himself or those he cared for were threatened. The twist to this is that it is in fact the man in the tan suit is killed in a brutal way by Driver. This shock factor makes the audience question their sympathy towards our protagonist.
The next semiotic we see is the elevator door shutting on Driver separating him from Irene. This representation shows the closure of their relationship indicating that there is no going back, the rupture between the two of them is final. We realise that the kiss between Driver and Irene had taken place as more of a goodbye kiss. This is because Driver is aware of the harm he could potentially bring to Irene and Benicio if her were to stay with them. His ability to suddenly act with rage and violence proves that he is uncontrollable and unstable. Conclusion
In conclusion the surprising incident in the elevator helps us learn more about the character Driver. The build-up, kiss, bashing and exit scenes of the incident result in the audience being able to see into the real Driver. The two elements of sound and colour work coherently with each other in exhibiting a scene which imitates a heaven-like landscape turned dark alley way. The approach of not only the lighting, but also the spatial distance between non-diegetic sound and diegetic sound as the latter starts to take prominence after Driver shows his romantic side.