remembering the overlooked and underrated

How Ryan Gosling Drove Out the Black Bile of August

In Items of Singular Interest, Motion Pictures on August 16, 2012 at 2:31 am

I want to tell you about Drive. But I can’t do that without first telling you a bit about my bile. See, lately I’ve been feeling melancholy. Or at least that’s what I thought I was feeling. On a whim, I checked the Merriam-Webster definition.

An abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility and depression.

Obviously I had misdiagnosed myself. I’m proud to say that my black bile level has been fine since this past January, and I expect it to remain so.

Laurence Olivier as the Melancholy Prince

Now, in fairness to Merriam-Webster, I should disclose that there was a second definition, one that corresponded with the Oxford dictionary’s. Basically, it comes down to depression, a dejection of spirits, a pensive sadness with perhaps no obvious cause. That’s pretty straightforward, yes? So I am back where I began: lately I’ve been melancholy. Why? I went home to Michigan a few weeks ago for one of my closest friend’s wedding. In fact, I officiated it. It was the morning after the wedding that I began to feel the dull ache of sadness. Not because of the wedding, but because I now had to say goodbye to my friend and his wife. And then I went to visit another good friend, and then had to part ways there too. And then, of course, there was my family. Oh, and lest I forget, one of the few good friends I’ve made in Seattle moved away shortly after I returned from Michigan.

Goodbyes are not my strength. I’m wonderful with hellos, good mornings, see-you-laters — if it isn’t a farewell, then I got it covered. You know what I mean: saying goodbye to people you love is hard, and if those people live thousands of miles away, it just sucks.

So yeah, goodbyes have beaten me down a bit lately. Then there’s the resulting lack of creative energy. If you’re someone who regularly engaged in creative endeavors, you probably know exactly what I mean. If the creative juice isn’t there, it’s depressing, which is a feeling that typically doesn’t inspire creativity, which in turn — you get the idea. It’s a nasty circle.

But Ryan Gosling picked me up tonight. Which, reading that, sounds like something completely different than what I mean.


I first saw Drive back in 2011, a couple weeks after its release. I had never seen a movie by director Nicolas Winding Refn before; I had no idea what I was getting into. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a nameless stunt car driver (Gosling) who works in a garage and occasionally serves as a heist wheelman. Complications arise when he becomes involved with his lovely neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her just-released-from-prison husband. I found the movie electrifying then. Since then I’ve talked to only a few people who have seen it, and most of them didn’t like it. Well, tonight I watched it again. I don’t know what movie they were watching, but the Drive I experienced was just as thrilling as it ever was. Look:

The neon pink titles, courtesy of Risky Business (1983). The pounding synth-pop. The measured pacing of the film, thanks to a lean script by Hossein Amini and editing by Refn’s go-to editor Mat Newman. The way the Driver is almost always immersed in the color blue, be it his clothes or the walls around him, and how it’s bad news for anyone nearby if those colors change. Ryan Gosling’s thoughtful, cool smile. How the ex-con husband, played by Oscar Isaac, upsets our expectations by actually being a nice guy. The explosive, gruesome moments of violence. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as gangsters. And the Driver’s ludicrous white coat with the golden scorpion on its back.

I didn’t notice it in the theater, but the first time Gosling ends up with blood on his face, it isn’t crimson. It’s a deep, golden hue. The same color that has been lurking in the background here and there, along with saturated reds, numerous shades of blues, and blinding whites. The same color, in fact, that comes to prominence in the much-talked-about elevator scene — a scene that leaps from one of the most tender and romantic kisses seen in a looong time to head-stomping violence straight out of David Cronenberg flick.

In case my point has gotten lost, here it is: Drive gets me jazzed. Is it underrated or overlooked? No. But the writing, acting, direction, cinematography, soundtrack, even the length (only 100 min) — it all comes together in a way that utterly delights me. Other things may do that too — books, music, theater — but sometimes it takes something especially wonderful to pull me out of a funk. I got lucky. I watched the right movie at the right time.

See how the gold is fracturing the blue? The Driver’s cool facade is starting to come undone.

I imagine everyone has something to lift their spirits when they’re down, to excite them, to inspire them. At least I hope everyone does.

What about you? What gets you going?


Drive is currently streaming on Netflix Instant. In case, y’know, you wanna watch it.



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