This without a question is my favorite scene in Drive. I always find myself Youtubing “You wanna see something” and just letting the scene play over and over again, and for a while I just assumed it was the 80s synth pop soundtrack but I realized how much this scene functions within the whole context of the film. To explore this we have the late Howard Ashman describing “Part of your world” in the making of The Little Mermaid:
“In almost every musical ever written, there’s a place thats usually about the third song in the evening… sometimes it’s the second sometimes it’s the fourth but its quite early. Sometimes its the tree stump in Brig’O Dune, sometimes its under the pillars in Covent Garden in My Fair Lady, or its a trash can in Little Shop of Horrors, but the leading lady sits down on something and sings about what she wants in life. The audience falls in love with her and then roots for her to get it the rest of the night.”
This scene in Drive is exactly that, minus Ryan Gosling sitting on a tree stump singing about what he wants. But why it’s also a step beyond let’s say, The Dark Knight Rises, is it shows us the image of the the driver actually having the happily ever after at the beginning of the movie, which causes audience constantly root for him to get back to. I’ve never been a fan of needless exposition, as film is a visual medium you can tell stories without words. This scene isn’t an imagined happing ending, no one is telling the audience what it is. We are visually experiencing it. No dialogue, no plot, just the character falling in love with his neighbor.
The extreme violence and horror of the plot are set after this event and with each event the film pulls the main character further and further away from the circumstances in this scene. This point is further hammered in by the use the ever brilliant Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero” as the montage song. It was a perfect sound to the LA love story, but it pulls the audience’s heart out at the end of the film as the main character is unable to return to Carrie Mulligan. The song is fixed to this dream, this memory the main character (and by extension us) has. And at the end while Ryan Gosling slowly drives away into the night away while Carrie Mulligan knocks on his door to no answer, the synth beat bangs up and down, as if it were the hands of time itself. It does exactly the opposite of what Ashman described. It represents the dream he didn’t get, or worse, didn’t deserve. He could only drive slowly into the night anonymously while thinking about what could have been. I can’t remember a film that in a short duration created a vivid memory that wasn’t a flashback, within the context of the plot. Just simply, brilliant.