The Danish director surprised us with his tense movie, Drive, in 2011. While this film could be described as “compact” and homogeneous, it keeps startling us from the beginning to the end.
Firstly, the opening credits are a view of Los Angeles, beautiful aerial shots paired with views from inside of a car, next to the driver and protagonist (Ryan Gosling). Here, the transitions are smooth, nothing is too harsh for the beginning. Coupled with the opening sequence are the credits, of a garish pink, which contrasts with the rather dark shots of the city. There is loud electronic music in the background, which contrasts both visually and stylistically. Throughout the whole film there will be very contrasting colors. Nicolas Winding Refn states that because of his eyesight he needs to incorporate lights that are very defined and visible; “All my films are very contrasted, if it were anything else I couldn’t see it.”.
Here is Ryan Gosling, in Only God Forgives (2013, also by Winding Refn)
The seemingly slow rhythm is coupled with very contrasted lightings and blinding colors.
If it were to be described, the word for this movie would be ‘raw’. This didn’t prevent Nicolas Winding Refn from superimposing smooth transitions and aesthetic lightnings into it, which startles the viewer even more. Who didn’t jump with surprise when the first gunshot was fired? Spectacular violence and darkness are shown through a hypnotic rhythm, and images are privileged rather than words. Whether it be stylized red lights or close ups, few dialogues and confusion, Nicolas Winding Refn sees cinema as a primarily visual media, and thus favors powerful images and shots that impact the viewer. In the movie, Ryan Gosling’s character is unnamed, and only speaks a few lines; he is almost exclusively associated with scenes in his car, or of extreme violence. As it is hard for the viewer to access his inner thoughts, the imagination is up to us; until the end, it is impossible to know for sure if the protagonist is well-intentionned or not. The character is revealed to us when he gets very violent, and we access his darkest side. The only light interactions he has are with Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. Other than that, the dark twist deepens as the movie goes on, and we access new aspects of the character’s psychology.
Here, just like the harsh colors contrast with the very dark shadows, the movie alternates between easy and smooth moments and incredibly violent scenes, which brings them out and emphasizes them even more.