The story behind the soundtrack: Drive

Last Wednesday, I saw a sneak peak of the new Nicolas Winding Refn film, Drive. Head-rush inducing chase scenes, graphic violence, Carey Mulligan + Ryan Gosling love connection? You got ’em – all in a terse 100 minutes.

Though the relationship the movie hinges on is a bit unbelievable (seriously, Carey Mulligan? Gosling is hot, but CAN YOU NOT SEE WHAT A TOTAL LUNATIC HE IS? I mean that satin scorpion jacket alone should clue you in.), there’s no denying the film’s perverse beauty: from the stylized violence to the hypnotic retro techno/pop soundtrack.

Here’s “A Real Hero” by College, one of the soundtrack’s major songs:

After the applause during the credits died down at my screening, I was fortunate enough to hear a Q&A with Refn. The story he told about the film’s background was fascinating. Apparently, Universal came to him with a script for a movie called The Driver. (Not the same movie that ultimately got made.) They were hoping Harrison Ford would be in the title role, but after reading the script, he decided to ditch the project because he “didn’t want to die at the end.”

So Refn met with Gosling. Only their dinner date got cut short since Refn was on some crazy antibiotics that made him “as high as a kite.” So in the middle of their meal, Refn asked Gosling to drive him home. To mask the awkwardness of the drive, Gosling turned on the radio, and REO Speedwagon began to play. Refn turned it up as loud as it would go and started screaming along. Then, it wasn’t long before he started weeping. All the while, Gosling looked straight ahead, his expression neutral.

After a few minutes of this, Refn yells, “I’ve got it! We’ll make a movie about a drive whose only emotional release is pop music!” Gosling pauses a beat, turns to Refn, and simply says, “Cool,” and that’s that. Refn turned Universal loose, re-imagined the script, and made it his own.

“Rock music didn’t suit the movie I was making,” says Refn. “I wanted to make a fairy tale, which is all about truth and purity, but the subtext is violence.”

“[Driver] is half man, half machine,” says Refn. “But the machinery, his car, is an antique. Late ’70s bands like Kraftwerk inspired my idea of making a movie where the score was electronic, but at an infant stage — crude in its technology, yet extremely poetic.” (1)

(1) From an interview with Refn in Spin. (Refn said the same at the Q&A.)


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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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