I went to see Drive last week and loved it. Violence aside — I’m increasingly intolerant of movie violence — the film looked and sounded gorgeous, and one scene in particular stuck with me.
Soon after Ryan Gosling’s and Carey Mulligan’s characters meet in their apartment block they fall in love.
And the shot in which this happens, when they both know it’s happening, is stationary, speechless, both short and long, and I could barely move my eyes.
The framing is close, Gosling on the left, Mulligan on the far right, their faces as tall as the screen. They look at each other and we look at them. No words are spoken, no movements are made. As microseconds pass their faces melt, shift, propose and accept.
The cinema screen was wide enough, and I was close enough, that moving my eyes from one face to the other was too much. I couldn’t miss a moment of this falling. With every swift saccade from right to left and back again, I would have skipped too much of the story as my gaze swept across the expanse between those hopeful faces.
And so, a couple of flickers aside, my attention was held solely by Carey Mulligan while, in silence, her eyes and lips enquired of possibilities, were relieved and joyed by mute responses, and then, finally, were resigned to this being the end. Each face confirmed what the other wished for, alongside the knowledge of their wishes’ futility.
This shifting silence is amplified, somehow increased, by Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack which expands the space as if his instruments have tuned to the moment’s atmosphere and synaesthetically transformed these subtle exchanges of emotion into a single evolving sound.
Just as the actors don’t need words, Martinez needs no rhythm, no beat.
As the electronics vibrate the humans stare into each other.
An entire story is told in that long moment.
Carey Mulligan spoke about the silence of scenes like this:
“We would sort of sit around in the morning and Nic[holas Winding Refn, the director,] would say, ‘Do you want to say this?’ And I would say, ‘No.’ And Ryan would go, ‘I don’t wanna say that.’ So we’d end up with four words and then we’d sort of shoot the scenes and look at each other,” she says. “It was weird. It just kind of felt like that was the part of the film that was going to be quiet and the rest of the film was going to be chaotic and action and killings and awesome stuff. This was the part of the film was hopeful.”
“Do you want to say this?”
There was no need.