With the releases of Drive (2011, Refn) and Baby Driver (2017, Wright), American audiences saw two non-American directors, a Dane and a Brit, take on a quintessential American sub-genre, a heist getaway driver picture. On the surface, both films fit the bill in their plot synopses. On paper, and as a pitch, two young gifted getaway drivers want to leave a life of crime, but before that, audiences get to see some exciting driving sequences. Once viewers saw what each auteur brought to the screen, it transcended the respected genre. Each film, in its own similar and contrasting way, gave viewers a glimpse of young men lost in a world where they don’t seem to fit.
In this modern age, the characters of both Baby (Ansel Elgort) and Driver (Ryan Gosling) seem to belong in another era. Driver is a man of few words, which is shown with his minimal dialogue throughout the movie. A character one might find in an old Western, but instead he is trapped in the chatty vapidity of Los Angeles. The romantic subplot in Baby Driver has an old fashioned Hollywood melodrama feel to it. He meets a girl in a diner; they hit it off and hope to run away together whimsical romance trapped in a world of jaded harshness. Neither of these men really belongs in their respected worlds, and each seeks a form of escape or shield from it.
The character of Linus in the Peanuts comic strip carries a security blanket with him wherever he goes. The blanket provides a sense of comfort for any obstacle that crosses his path. Baby and Driver have their own security blankets that serve as a need to keep them safe and make them feel stronger. Baby hides behind a pair of sunglasses and an iPod. When he goes on a job, or just wants to escape from the taunts of his clients, those two security blankets are with him. Driver has his driving gloves and jacket with a scorpion on the back, like Baby, it’s both his defense and source of power. It can be argued that both Drive and Baby Driver are superhero movies. Their two items are used when engaged in a task, but when removed, they don’t seem as powerful.
To refer back to the romantic subplot of Baby Driver, both Baby and Driver are loners wandering aimlessly through a big city. Though Baby has an older deaf man that serves as a surrogate uncle, he doesn’t seem to have any family to speak of. Driver lives alone, shops alone, and sans a job, drives alone. Each meets a girl that shakes up their lonely existence, but each faces an obstacle that stands in the way of truly being happy. Line of work and a physical barrier (a former boyfriend in Drive and clients in Baby Driver) prevents them from “getting the girl” easily.
With a desire to leave a life of crime and find some sort of attachment for these lost boys, the use of music plays an integral part of the hero’s journey. Music differs in each for its use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Baby Driver offers the use of diegetic sound with the immense playlist from his iPod. Music on the playlist both drowns out the noise that surrounds him and makes him think of his mother, as many tracks are older songs. Drive uses non-diegetic sound with its synthwave/retrowave soundtrack. It is both a feeling of the past (80s sound) to show Driver belongs in another world and its somewhat futuristic sound to show he does not belong in this world.
As the movies end, the audience is presented with ambiguous, anti-Hollywood open endings for our characters. Both escape from the life of crime, but at a cost. Baby is sent to jail and Driver drives away from LA. We don’t really know for sure if they each “get the girl” at the end, but one thing is for sure, they remain lost. Though each escapes their surroundings, these lost boys continue to search for a place, and special someone, that makes them feel that they belong, and fit, somewhere.
Zac Hestand received his BA in Film from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and his MA in English Studies from the University of Sheffield. Mr. Hestand is currently a contributing writer for Film Inquiry and a Visiting Assistant Professor of English Composition at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Ulsan, South Korea.