Tyrannosaur and Drive: The difference between loneliness and being alone
The prospect of loneliness is probably one of the biggest fears that humans have to contend with. More often than not, this is reinforced by the state of actually being alone, but it’s not automatically synonymous with it. There are plenty of people who are alone and are quite content with it. It can be associated with independence, standing on your own two feet, ‘going at it alone.’ You’re a lone soldier and you don’t need to prop yourself up on anyone. You can be alone and content with it.
Loneliness, on the other hand, is a creeping and destructive force. Triggered by disruptive life events – moving home, losing a job, losing a loved one – or indeed by a discontent with ‘being alone,’ it’s a painful state that we’d be quite happy never to have to face.
Film at its finest is a great medium for depicting such powerful themes, and for drawing vivid visual distinctions between concepts that may at first seem closely related. It’s the viewing of two recently-released films on Blu-Ray, Tyrannosaur and Drive, that triggered this thought (a thought that, admittedly, I’m still processing as I write these very words). Watching these films, say, a year apart, probably wouldn’t have led to any parallels being drawn, but seeing them one after the other is an amazing representation of how a film’s style (in terms of performance, sound and aesthetic) can distinguish it from another film which shares a near-identical premise; in this case, style is what separates one film’s painful focus on loneliness and the other’s casual acknowledgement of ‘being alone.’
Both Tyrannosaur and Drive revolve around protagonists who seemingly have nothing in their lives. Tyrannosaur’s Joseph is an embittered older man who’s prone to terrifying fits of unexplained rage, while Drive’s ‘Driver’ is a young stuntman who is a getaway driver on the side. He earns his way, but it’s unclear what for as he has no social life and lives in a small flat in which he simply tinkers around with car parts. He too, it later turns out, is prone to extreme violence, but since this is for a noble cause – namely, protecting a lovely woman – then this isn’t an issue that needs to be somehow ‘read into’ by viewers.
In both films, our nomadic heroes meet women whose a-lonesomeness (not a real word? It is now) matches their own. Tyrannosaur’s Hannah is a kind-hearted charity shop owner whose resilient Christianity masks a horrific and abusive domestic life with her husband. Drive’s Irene doesn’t suffer the same kind of abuses. However, with her husband in jail, a child to look after, and no family or friends, she too is decidedly alone.
So both films revolve around isolated individuals who find comfort in those similar to themselves. But this is where the power of film comes in, and the similarities end. Drive is a super-stylised film; an openly-referencing hybrid of cult 70’s car chase films, 80s neo-noir, and Tarantino-esque crime films of the 90s. The film is completely devoid of psychological insight, with the hero’s only discernible emotion being an almost adolescent attraction towards the lovely Irene. Indeed, if you were to think deeper into the psychology of the characters, you’d probably conclude that Driver is suffering from a mild form of autism.
Driver is a loner, but so stylised – with his racer jacket, driver’s gloves and good looks – that we’re removed from this fact. We’re not concerned with his story and past; all the story we need here is that ‘boy likes girl, and he’ll do anything for her.’ Furthermore, you feel that, had he never met Irene, he’d be quite happy repairing and racing cars for the rest of his simple little life. As he rides around the sensually-lit streets of the city at night, accompanied by the catchy Kavinsky tune, Nightcall, we are too engaged in the music, the camerawork, and Ryan Gosling’s blank-but-endearing face to contemplate something so heavy as loneliness in relation to this character; loner though he may be.
Joseph, on the other hand, is a tragic case from the start. Our first encounter with him is when he kicks his pet dog to death in a rage, then buries it in his garden. We don’t hate him for it though, as the camera’s lingering on his face reveals a man who’s clearly tormented. There is no fancy lighting or commercial music here to distract us from trying to read this man; on the contrary, we’re invited to try and understand him. Once Hannah gets introduced, she too is given the same treatment; the camera is uncompromising, and lingers on her long enough to capture all the pain behind her stoic eyes. Through the relentless, unmediated focus on the characters themselves, we can’t avoid facing their loneliness with them.
Aside from their contrasting aesthetics, there is one more crucial factor that so strongly separates the two films. Drive’s characters are beautifully linear, and the filmic events are all we need to appreciate what is – beneath its coating of violence and slickness – a fairly classic love story. Joseph and Hannah, on the other hand, have a past; one that’s shrouded in mystery, but that evidently feeds into their broken present states. Loneliness is an affliction that builds up over time, and Tyrannosaur gives us a strong sense of events preceding what we see on-screen. Joseph’s dying father, Hannah’s inability to have children, and Joseph’s deceased wife all maintain a spectral hold over the film. We fear experiencing the same crippling feelings as these characters, and as such we sympathise with them.
Drive and Tyrannosaur are completely different films that share a seemingly similar premise of being about people who are lonely (or alone) finding comfort in each other’s company. Yet it is in the spectacular way that they take this premise in completely opposite directions that they illustrate two extremes of cinema. Drive expands it outwards, with the director using all the stylistic tools at his disposal to emphasise – to almost melodramatic levels – the characters’ feelings for each other. By making the characters entirely contained in the narrative and depriving them of a past, Drive is telling us to enjoy the ride and trivialises any potential insight into human loneliness. Tyrannosaur, on the other hand, is an inwards-looking film that shows off cinema’s ability to explore the most painful and feared human states; in this case loneliness. Whether one film is better than the other is irrelevant. What’s impressive here is the ability of gifted filmmakers to take a seemingly specific concept, and manipulate it to such radically disparate ends.Tagged in: Drive, film, Tyrannosaur
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