It may be arthouse, but violence is violence…

I wanted to write a post about my reactions to a film I saw on TV the other night. It’s not one I would have chosen to see in the cinema, or buy the DVD of – it was just ‘on’…

Drive (2011) starring Ryan Gosling, dir Nicholas Winding Refn

The other night on BBC3 there was a big ‘for one night only’ showing of the 2011 film Drive with a new soundtrack curated by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe – ‘Drive Rescored’. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d heard that it was a good film, although the info on the screen did say it was very violent and with lots of bad language – it didn’t even start until 10pm. I started watching…

A getaway driver outlines his terms – you have five minutes he tells the robbers. He collects his car – a silver Impala – the most common car out there in LA. The heist goes to plan and they get away safely. Cut to the driver being a stunt double on a movie set – he’s something special as a driver …

So at this stage I was hooked. Even the Radio 1 supplied soundtrack was more chilled than I’d expected.

The driver (Ryan Gosling) who is never named, meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio.  They strike up a friendship, which looks sure to lead to something else, if only her husband wasn’t due out of prison.  When Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) gets out, he is beaten up for money he owes. The driver agrees to be getaway driver for him to rob a pawnshop to get the cash – but it all goes wrong and Gabriel gets shot …

Up until this point, we’d had the initial heist and getaway, the character building scenes and one guy had beaten up and later shot.  It was all done in an arthouse style, moody, noirish – but after this getaway things really took a violent turn for the worse, as the driver and Gabriel’s accomplice Blanche are followed.

It was obvious that Blanche was going to get killed, and I’m never going to be able to watch the last series of Mad Men to come in the same way – Christina Hendricks (Joan in Mad Men, Blanche in Drive) (highlight to see) gets her head pulped with shotgun pellets l‘Oh ****’ I said to myself.  It went on to out-Soprano The Sopranos, being one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen.

Yet I kept on watching it, admittedly gasping and wincing with every shot and blow from then on. If it had been a straight-forward schlock-action thriller I think I’d have been able to switch the telly off – it was now way past my bedtime.  Because I’d been enjoying the arthouse 1980s style of the film, which references Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction etc. and the aforementioned Sopranos I kept watching.  In spite of all the violence I enjoyed the intelligent storytelling.

I guess the point of this is, that I’m shocked that I can say that it and others of the same ilk are such good movies or series – and in these darker months, there are lots more to come on the TV too. Those who enjoy crime novels in particular have to put up with some awful violence and depravity too – imaginative deaths and tortures become de rigeur. I can dissociate myself from these awful fictions, but they do make one long for something more gentle and amusing as an antidote – I shall be catching up with The Detectorists tonight.

Have you seen Drive?
How do you react to violence on the screen and/or page?

19 thoughts on “It may be arthouse, but violence is violence…

  1. calmgrove says:

    No, I haven’t seen it, but found your description as beguiling as the film must have been for you. I rarely countenance violence but intelligent storytelling, in print or in film (as in ‘No Country for Old Men’) just about makes it palatable. My wife’s aversion to violent films means I can rarely view them dispassionately — just as I now prefer food without copious helpings of salt or sugar, a sort of violence to the taste buds.

  2. drharrietd says:

    I can’t deal at all well with violent films and spend a lot of time looking away or with my fingers over my eyes – anything with blood will do this to me. Yet I read thrillers with violence, and can handle that ok though I don’t enjoy it all that much. I think like you I must be able to dissociate from the words but not from the sights. I won’t be watching this though it sounds like a good film of its genre and I do like noir…

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      Some of the violence in crime novels is now as cringe-inducing as on the screen. The Pierre Lemaitre book Alex (or is it Irene – I forget which is the first) made me totally wince at one point – then when I get to the second novel in the series, I won’t wince in quite the same way I expect.

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’m not good with violence on screen, and the older I get the less well I handle it on the page. In fact, I’ve almost given up on modern crime novels because of the extremity and sheer nastiness of the violence – which is also so often against women. You don’t need viciousness to tell a story and I read a crime novel more for the puzzle. I guess I shall end up an old women reading cosy mysteries!!

  4. susanosborne55 says:

    I tend to look away and scrutinise my partner’s profile to see how he’s reacting. Once he stops wincing I know I can look back at the screen. Your point about intelligent storytelling is spot on though – long hours spent watching the Sopranos and the Wire have increased my tolerance of violent scenes. Probably not a good thing.

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      There was one scene in this film where you could really see the driver steeling himself before being violent – it hadn’t become natural to him (yet) to just do it, but he had his reason for ‘needing’ to do it – the storytelling made it seem not so gratuitous… (I have yet to watch The Wire – another to catch up on).

  5. Col says:

    I think your post makes me realise that I tend to justify my reaction to violence I see or read by the ‘story’. I suppose I tend to use the extent to which I like the story as a way to differentiate between mindless, gratuitous violence and violence which ‘fits’. I recently read and loved The Orenda by Joseph Boyden yet some friends to whom I recommended it found it simply too violent. I certainly winced at the violence in it in the same way as I did when I watched say Tarantino’s Django Unchained – but because in both cases I loved the story it didn’t put me off. Mind you, I’m like you in that after reading or watching something violent my first reaction is to look for something gentle or light to follow it.

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      A good story well told with violence that ‘fits’ if needed, certainly makes it bearable to watch.

      But you can keep all the pure gratuitous violence in slasher movies – I won’t watch those these days.

  6. Carol S says:

    I found early Amis (Dead Babies since renamed??) beyond bearing yet paintings by say Francis Bacon extremely interesting. Both experienced in the same time period. Caravaggio, a very fine painter, is difficult to view, because he is so graphic. I’ve often puzzled over this. Bacon’s use of paint and brush takes my attention I suppose, .

  7. Fleur in her World says:

    I can’t deal with violence on screen, or very much in print. I do think that there’s something to be said for showing violence as it is – rather than the old way of somebody being shot on film and sliding elegantly to the floor – but I do fear that there are too many instances of violence that is gratuitous or glamourised.

  8. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I saw Drive in the cinema when it first came out, and I was in no way prepared for how dark it was. I didn’t expect it to be so gory, definitely, and I also didn’t expect it to be so dark thematically. For some reason I had it in my head that it was a fun action movie! Which was, er, pretty far from what it actually was. I’m not a huge fan of violence in films — when things start getting really gory, with blood spatter and chunks of human flesh, that’s where I start closing my eyes and ears. If I’d been watching Drive on Netflix instead of in a theater, I wouldn’t have finished it.

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