Monday, May 6, 2013

Drive, Driven, Drove

James Sallis writes character novels. In "Drive" and its sequel "Driven" he explores, and expands the myth of the "man with no name." In the original novel, a fast paced 158 pages, Sallis gives us "the driver," the main character of the stories. He is a man who is good at one thing, driving...  He's also quite adept at another thing- violence.

The lead character is a stunt driver who is the getaway man on a heist gone wrong when Sallis opens up the "Drive." The repercussions of the failed robbery are immediate.There is a rapping sound and dead bodies. A woman whose blood pools, an albino's whose doesn't, a third man whose blood was dropping into the sink, Driver used a straight razor to shave the man's neck open. There is the rapping of Driver's hands on the floor.

Driver continues to do what he is good at in the non linear novel, he drives cars and does violence. There is no love line, there is no rhyme or reason, there is just the absurdity of life for Driver.

In the stunning major motion picture starring Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicolas Windig the story is far more linear. There is the Driver, a heist gone wrong, a love interest, and a climax.

The movie stands apart from the novel. The film uses the same characters, and some of the plot but the stories are radically different.

The character played by Carey Mulligan, Irina, who is a latina in the novel, is blown apart in a fast paced sentences however ripping apart any semblance of meaning to Driver's existence.

"Home from her new job as ward clerk at the local ER, Irina refilled their wineglasses.
'Here's to-'
He remembered the glass falling, shattering as it struck the floor.
He remembered the starburst of blood on her forehead, the snail of it down her cheek as she trie to spit out what was in there in the moment before she collapsed.
He remembered catching her as she fell- and then, for a long time, not much else.
Gang business, the police would tell him later. Some sort of territorial dispute, we think.
Irina died just after four a.m" (86).

At the halfway point in the book one of the two female characters is killed off, the other dead already. What follows isn't a strict revenge plot, but rather it is Driver trying to make sense of it all. While the movie and the novel are noir in character there is a difference in the existential themes of the two. The film weighs more in on what it means to be human while at the same time being detached, and violent.

 While the existential and  noir aspect comes in the novel when Driver experiences an existential crisis in the problems related to choice. Has Driver chosen a path of violence? Did he make choices for Irina? Did he chose the path of revenge?

The problem of choice is made clear in the last dialogue between Driver and Bernie Rose, a gangster who has had his hand in the business of violence which motors Driver along.

"'Think we chose our lives?' Bernie Rose said as they cruised into coffee and cognac.
'No. But I don't think they're thrust upon us, either. What it feels like to me is, they're forever seeping up under our feet.'
Bernie Rose nodded. 'First time I heard about you, word was that you drove, that's all you did.'
'True at the time. Times change.'
'Even if we don't'" (156).

Driver kills Bernie Rose after the gangster attempts to slash him under the moonlight with a knife. The novel ends and Bernie Rose is the only man that he'd ever mourned killing.

The existential problems of choice, so common in noir novels, continues to haunt Driver in "Driven." If Sallis hinted at the problem of existence in "Drive" he sings the theme out with beautiful sentences.

In a conversation between Driver and an accomplice, Manny, the more loquacious Manny states:

"'We think we make choices. But what happens is the choices walk up, stand face to face with us, and stare us down.'
'So you believe a man's path, the way of his life, is set?'
'Re: belief, see above. But yes, we come suddenly alive, we scamper around like a cockroach when lights go on, and then the light goes off'" (32).

Sallis is using Manny to further his theme of choice and that choices choose us rather than the other way around. Additionally he makes the typical existential comment of our lives essentially being worth little after all "we scamper around like a cockroach" (32).

This sense of choice and destiny is furthered in Sallis' beautiful depiction of the sun setting. He write, "Outside, day gave way to night by a kind of gentleman's agreement, neither is losing face: light still strong as shadows moved in from nearby hills and taller buildings" (53). Here light and dark face off with each other, they stare each other down and then by a gentleman's agreement they part.

The sense of choice becomes even more riddled with doubt when choices remain dubious. Even little choices like where to eat become problematic. Sallis depicts it accurately when he depicts a diner scene where "everyone in the diner gave the impression of having barely arrived from one place while being eager to depart for another. Feet fidgeted under tables. Eyes swung toward windows" (98). Sallis does a great job of creating an anxiety ridden sense of being between choices, to stay or to go.

The sense of choice which was a running theme through the two novels is not resolved. Instead at "Driven's" conclusion the sense that choice is limited, binding, and never fully coherent is emphasized. Sallis writes, " Our eyes bounce off surfaces, we can't see far or deep. We make choices from the pitifully little we understand about who we are, held in place by that. Then we hold our breaths fully expecting the heavens to tear open any minute. All of us do that, Eight (Driver). Not Just you" (146).

Nevertheless Driver continues on, he makes a choice, or maybe the choice makes him. Sallis closes his novel with the simple sentence, "He drove" (147).

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