When I did a Yahoo! image search for "Drive, He Said", the first dozen or so screencaps were just the nude images from this movie. I knew that I was going to have a hard time finding a hi-res and compelling image for this little known movie. I mean, look at the gem I had to settle on. But I wasn't expecting such a stark reminder of how R-rated this movie was. There's a lot of nudity in this movie. There's language. There's sex. There's a lot of screaming. I know that's not something that the MPAA really registers, but it is pretty intense screaming. So let's just support the R for Drive, He Said and go on with our lives.
DIRECTOR: Jack Nicholson
It has been way too long since I wrote something. Life got really busy and then we went on vacation. I thought that I could get to a computer on vacation, but I couldn't. That's not the worst thing in the world. While I find a great deal of peace writing these little essays, they do require more time than I usually have. I actually couldn't fall asleep last night because I had these little fantasies of a world where I just had infinite time and I could just knock out the many many film commentaries I wanted to in one day. What I'm really apologizing for is that this review is going to be based on a movie I saw way too long ago. If I don't remember some things accurately, I apologize. I just know that I don't really have the time to go back and watch the movie again. Also, I'm good with this one.
There's something really seductive with falling in love with the black sheep. I tend to do it because I feel like it gives me hipster cred. Drive, He Said and A Safe Place are on a single disc in my Criterion BBS Story box set. Normally, I try spacing out these watchings of the BBS movies because I feel like I would be mentally reviewing the whole set rather than the individual films in the box. So I alternate genres of movies. Honestly, there's such a method to my madness that people feel like I drive the joy out of the viewing experience by being such a stickler for order. But I also didn't want to forget about A Safe Place when I came back to it, so expect a review for that movie ideally pretty soon. But Drive, He Said is more of a piece that is telling about its creator, Jack Nicholson. Yeah, I was pretty jazzed too when I saw that Jack Nicholson had actually directed this one. The thing about the BBS movies is that they are all radical (in the denotative sense) movies. They are counter-culture and they are reacting to the hippie movement. Remember, Easy Rider is in this box set as well, so just use that as your pace car / pace motorcycle. Tonally, Drive, He Said is tonally very similar. It feels just like the other BBS films. This one may deal with the issues going on at the time a little more head-on. Larner and Nicholson wrote a screenplay where one of the more compelling characters fears his drafting into Vietnam. We've seen that in other movies, but it is pretty abstract. The movie starts off, and this might be one of the more effective openings in the BBS box, with a staged faux-mass shooting. History has made this moment pretty bleak for me. It doesn't help that there was another shooting today and here I am writing about a movie in 1971, but I also can't seem to ignore it. I want to talk about this culturally, but I'm going to finish describing the sequence. Drive, He Said is a pretty slow movie that kind of highlights a lot of the faults of the BBS films, despite my appreciation for them. Like many of the BBS films, there's a lot of meandering with the narrative and with the characters. Rather than building arcs, many of these characters prefer an anti-structure. They go from one moment to another, probably accidentally paralleling the cinema-verite style. There is a climax to all these choices, but these climaxes don't really seem like a breaking point that has been built up to, but rather as simply a cool moment. That opening of Drive, He Said, however, is methodical.
The opening of the film, directed by Nicholson, seems to buck the trend of the other films. It is very tense and it is very confusing. Nicholson is slightly shameless in his love for basketball in this movie. But there's this attitude, especially in light of our gun violence culture, that makes that opening terrifying for us. Columbine changed a lot for society, but we have been a messed up people for a long time. There's this false nostalgia that is present. People wonder how society is crumbling and I say that society has been crumbled for a long time. Drive, He Said is effective because it shows how desperate youth culture was to make change. I don't like when adults pick on this generation. "We never used to do that kind of stuff." But movies like Drive, He Said --and more famously, Rebel Without a Cause --shows us that we've been screwed up for a while. The movie grabs your attention with a bunch of college kids taking a basketball game hostage with fake assault rifles before the security of the area boots them and everyone moves on with their lives. Admittedly, there were no actual shots and the lackadaisical attitude of the police and security shows that no one was honestly concerned for their lives for very long. That is a drastic change from today's society where it would be rare to stage a hostage crisis and have 100% survivors. But Nicholson is filming from his perspective on the era. He sees that the world is screwed up and he vocalizes the frustration of the era.
But I haven't even discussed the fundamentals of this movie. At the end of the day, Drive, He Said is The Paper Chase with basketball and free love. Hector's quest for self-realization, on the bright side, probably mirrors real arrested development. He's this guy who just keeps tanking himself. Hector keeps making these bonkers decisions because he's fed up with life and he's fed up with the world around him. But his choices don't really make him a hero. I don't know what Nicholson is trying to really say with Hector. He's our protagonist by default. Nicholson makes him remarkably shlubby. He stands for nothing outside of the message that everything sucks. There is this beautiful moment at the end where he reacts to Gabriel's fate that is pretty impressive and kind of powerful, but I also don't really believe that moment is earned as much as Nicholson wants him to be. Nicholson's message, instead, kind of seems to be something along of the lines of the world being a terrible place. We should watch out for ourselves because everyone else will do the same. This will make everyone miserable, but there's no real alternatives. I often write that whatever movie I'm discussing has no likable characters. Drive, He Said really plays into the "no likable characters" film. The closest I can get to liking a character is Gabriel because his story is just so intense. Gabriel has something wrong with him and I at least find that fascinating. Gabriel's story also houses the emotional core of the film. His fear and his insanity at least make a little bit of sense. But, again, Gabriel sucks. Sorry, he just does. I think I mentioned in my review for Head that that I normally love these counter-culture films. I'm not counter-culture. I feel like a real rebel for not having my morning tea right now. I'm really itching to use my Barnes & Nobles gift card. My life is pretty chill. But I used to really look forward to the movies in the BBS series because they have this attitude of "Damn the Man" that I never really had. But Drive, He Said just shows how much change could have happened if members of radical movements didn't act like psychopaths the entire time. Gabriel's big scenes in the movie aren't for enacting the change he wants. They are him venting his emotional frustrations and making a spectacle of himself. No one would ever listen to Gabriel.
But at least Gabriel had a message to scream. Hector is simply this guy who wants everything. If anything, this movie is a retroactive attack on the sexual revolution. Hector and Olive are both sleeping around and they seem absolutely miserable because of it. The great experiment has left both Hector and Olive just angry at the world and at themselves. That quest for happiness and gratification has actually left them more distraught. Hector goes from scene to scene, questioning Bruce Dern and every other adult who has their acts together. Nicholson, of course, paints the members of the authority as squares who don't really get it. But these characters have purpose in their lives. Dern as the coach seems to make choices and meet the needs of his frustrated star player. He changes tactics and doesn't make authoritarian choices, but comes across from Hector's perspective as the man trying to get him down. I leave this movie somewhat frustrated at what Nicholson was trying to say with this movie. The people who have their acts together and are playing by the social contract are the real squares in this movie. Normally, I would comment on the white male majority being the focus of power, but that's not even true in Drive, He Said. Rather these people are villains while the people who are miserable and not willing to have a rational discussion about anything are the heroes. Is misery the only way to live? Is fleeting happiness valuable? I don't know. Perhaps I can only view this from a perspective of comfort. I'm not the target audience. My social frustrations are enacted other ways because I'm not part of the oppressed. Regardless, I think that Nicholson has some wishy-washy views in Drive, He Said that probably need a little bit more spit and polish.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.