Adam pointed me to a couple of interesting links, including this interview with Nicolas Winding Refn (the director), which literally made my jaw fall open. Here are the (to me) shocking excerpts:
All my films are very feminine. Art is a feminine medium and it’s a way to counter masculinity. You know, I structured the film very much like a fairy tale. Half the movie had to be pure champagne in order for the second half to succeed, its psychotic behavior.
It blows my mind that he thinks this film is "feminine," and that the first half of the movie somehow justifies the second. Or, as I tweeted this morning, "So if Ryan Gosling likes a pretty girl in the first half, it's OK if he later stomps a guy's face into liquid oblivion."
The elevator sequence I came up with a week before we started shooting. Because there was a scene there that I couldn’t make work, and by placing it in the elevator I was able to incorporate the kiss, which essentially was the payoff to the head smash. Before, the problem was I didn’t have anything to account it for. So it wasn’t till I changed my surroundings that I was able to come up with that. There’s nothing too extreme for me if it balances the reverse.
MO: So balance very important to you.
Refn: Yeah, because the payoff won’t have an effect unless the build up is emotionally engaging like that. Making violence is very much like sex. If you believe the build up to the climax it becomes so much more engaging.
So, basically, in Refn's minds, the sweet scenes in the first half of the movie (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan staring at each other, driving around, playing with her kid, basted with golden sunlight, etc. etc.) are foreplay and the subsequent blood bath is the climax. What I'm hearing is, I kissed the audience on the neck and rubbed its back and lightly fondled it, so that way it was ready when I eye-raped it with violence. I'm sorry to say, Refn, your fondling was forced and inept and I was in no way prepared for the violent intercourse that followed.
He goes on to say that "violence is very intimate" and "I’m a fetish filmmaker, and I make films based on what I would like to see." My response to this is "Ugh."
Locke Peterseim, who blogs about film at Hammer & Thump (now part of the Open Letters masthead), had this to say about Drive (emphasis mine):
On its release, I immediately pegged Drive to my mental 2011 Faves List. But re-watching the crime noir a couple times over the winter as I prepared for end-of-year awards voting and Best Of lists, each repeat viewing further reinforced a paradox: The more I watched the film, the more convinced I became that it’s all style as substance, and the less I felt it had to say beyond its neon-slick, ultra-violent attitude. And yet my appreciation of the film grew for exactly that same reason. Maybe Drive—now available on home video—is nothing more than a fresh, stylish genre riff, but it’s a terrific one, and I admire it even more for being just that.
Here's what I don't understand about the typical moviegoer: Why is he so forgiving? Why is everything justifiable? How can anyone see a movie as all style, no substance, and decide they like it for that very reason? I don't see Drive as a comment on Hollywood; it is Hollywood. Refn said himself, he was making the film he wanted to see, not a film to mock his viewers by giving them what they think they want.
What is the difference, in this discourse, between a movie that fails because it's stylishly vapid and one that succeeds because it is?