Thursday, October 13, 2011

Strong and silent is not my type

I've been continuing to wrestle with Drive.

I posted once about it, very optimistically, in anticipation of its release. I then posted after seeing it, full of doubts and complaints (but recognizing some very memorable strengths -- I thought about the movie for days afterward).

Since then I've talked to a number of people about it. Most tell me I'm crazy. Some don't.

But I think it was last night that I finally came to understand my most salient complaint about it:

I don't relate to the strong silent type.

See, I hate pauses. I hate when no one is saying something in a conversation. And Drive -- particularly the scenes between Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan -- is chock full of pauses.

Interminable, pregnant, awful, uncomfortable pauses.

I'm a talker by nature. I have a lot to say, especially when I'm comfortable with a group of people. I'm excited to get together with people because I want to say things to them. Say things at them? Nah, I don't barrel over them -- there's definitely a give and take. But I am guilty at times of the sin discussed in the deleted scenes from Pulp Fiction, in which Mia asks Vincent if, as a conversationalist, he listens or waits to talk. I listen, but occasionally, I just wait to talk.

So a strong silent type -- who primarily listens, and doesn't contribute much in terms of speech -- is a person who makes me somewhat uncomfortable.

I have friends who I might characterize this way, but I prefer hanging out with them in groups. Their refusal to pathologically fill up the dead air with chatter makes me worried what will happen in a one-on-one situation. I almost feel like I should have a list of go-to topics ready, just in case I find myself in this scenario. I relate much better to talkative neurotics, who compulsively fill the empty spaces just as I do.

Gosling's character in Drive -- famously unnamed -- is the last guy in the world who would care about filling the empty spaces with chatter. He seems to thrive on the empty spaces.

Everyone who criticizes Drive, as I do, seems to agree that the scenes between Gosling and Mulligan are weighed down by unnaturally long pauses. It's a thoroughly intentional decision by Nicolas Winding Refn. But this to me is why they read as fake. Because I see the world the way I do -- holding the belief that human beings should fear awkward silences -- people who don't have this fear seem somehow artificial to me. Not artificial as in ungenuine, but as in actual constructions of fiction.

Before you go off on me, let me explain that I know this is irrational. The world takes all kinds of people. And if all of them were chatterers, we might go crazy.

I may not myself even be an extreme chatterer, except under certain circumstances, as when I have a lot in common with someone. In fact, I barely ever bore people I don't know with stories about myself. That's not what I want you to take away from this, the idea that I talk people's ears off. (Writing their eyes off on my blog is another matter.) But I do believe in lubricating social situations however I can, so that they flow more easily. This is where my verbal tendencies really come into play.

And so I don't relate to someone who will not only allow conversational dead spots, but actually seems to encourage them.

This realization came on my drive home from a friend's house last night, where five of us guys were hanging out. Lately these guys have teased me a bit about being too talkative, most notably on Facebook, where a joke has risen up that I explain in too much detail why I can't come to a particular social event. While the strong silent type might just say "I can't make it that night," I feel the need to say "I really want to come, but unfortunately, my dad and his wife are coming to town the next day, and we need to clean the house. Not only that, but I owe it to my wife not to be out the night before she has to start sucking it up for a week with her in-laws. Plus the baby has had a bit of a cold. And I've got a really big pimple on my nose right now." This is an exaggeration, but not a huge exaggeration.

As an attempt to prove them wrong, last night I told myself I was going to be that silent type, a person who receives more information than he sends out, a person who listens and laughs but lets others dictate the flow of the conversation.

Couldn't do it.

When I get together with these guys, I'm just exploding with the desire to talk about the pop culture we've consumed since we last saw each other. (Drive being one of these pieces of pop culture.) I don't hang with friends as often as I did in the pre-baby days, nor do we hang as long on a given night -- in fact, two of the five cleared out before 10 p.m. So it's even more important to utilize the available conversation time to shoot the shit about which new TV shows are good (and which suck), which movie trailers we love (and which we hate), etc. I tried as a test to shut off the part of me that's wired this way, but I couldn't. I just had to keep the conversational agenda moving along at a rapid clip. It's in my DNA.

But it's not in the DNA of Ryan Gosling's Driver, and it's not in the DNA of Viggo Mortensen's Tom Stall/Joey Cusack from A History of Violence. See, it wasn't Drive alone that helped me reach my conclusion about the strong silent type. For the first time on that drive home last night, I made a conscious comparison that might have occurred to me earlier -- the reasons I don't really like Drive are very similar to the reasons I don't really like A History of Violence.

There are definite stylistic similarities between the two films, such as the somewhat languid pacing interrupted by flashes of gruesome violence. Violence certainly moves things along faster, but there's something "man with no name" about Mortensen's character here, too -- having two names is almost as much of a comment on the meaningless of his name as having no name.

But the thing that aligns him most with the "man with no name" archetype is that he doesn't say much. He has intense, soulful eyes, as does Gosling in Drive. But he doesn't like to open his mouth any more than he has to. Perhaps he's only developed this laconic nature as a defense mechanism, to keep his Philly accent from bursting through to the surface. But the end result is the same: He's a guy who pierces you with solemn looks and speaks few words.

In other words, not my kind of guy.

What's troubling me now is to figure out how deep this runs in me. For example, I don't feel negatively disposed toward Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name character -- that I can say for sure. But I think that's because in westerns, that character is an archetype that's part of the very fabric of the genre. I accept more easily that strong silent types in westerns do their talking with their guns. I have never known any other way.

Tom/Joey and Driver, on the other hand, are modern men. And yeah, I guess they are each cowboys. But modern cowboys strike me as overly stylized, and somehow, false. We live in an age that is defined by chatter -- emails, texts and tweets fly back and forth across the world with such frequency that if you pictured them visually, they'd look like the world's busiest freeway projected at ten times its normal speed. I've gotten on board with this frenetic pace -- Tom/Joey and the Driver have not.

Does that make me right and them wrong?

No. But it does explain why I don't really relate to them.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I love History of Violence whereas I only like Drive, clearly despite my issues with it I obviously like it more than you do.The potent romance between Irene and the driver isn't established strongly, but I like their work together.

I get what you're saying about being overly silent, but I don't find the two films that similar.

Thaddeus said...

It's a very thoughtful entry, here. I'm only qualified to give a half-opinion. I'll say this: I didn't have any problem with the pauses in A History of Violence. A guy who used to murder people willy-nilly, now living a quiet life in a small town with a great family and modest business? It makes total sense that that guy is pretty quiet.

Also, I have to think that the main wordless-moments in aHoV were moments in which it's incredibly hard to know what to say. Your wife feels totally betrayed and angry and disgusted with you; you have nasty, almost-stranger sex on the floor. She's even more disgusted now. There's not many people who'd have something to say at that moment, not without being a non-stop talkative idiot.

The same goes for the family reunion at the end. You nearly got your family killed, you've been living a lie to them for years. You killed people in your home, and you just came back in a situation that suggests you probably killed more people. They quietly welcome you back to the table. What's to say?

I can be a non-stop talker, too. But there's still a lot of moments where I enjoy silence. Or, if you're a straight male and remember any of your dates, you've probably had tons of moments where women have said stuff to you for which there isn't much of a response beyond a smile, or a nod, or wistful look, or a wince, or a wink.

I haven't seen Driver, but every single reviewer has commented on the excessive non-talk. That really suggests that it's an artificial construct that, at best, works within the confines of the movie, but is probably badly done, because it's a distraction. Or because it's unlikely any two strangers courting each other would get that quiet that often. As to the only two moments of serious silence I can recall in aHoV, I didn't find them problematic at all.

PS, I gave you a shoutout in my latest post. I'm takin a blog-cation, brother, so I sent a little (platonic) love your way...

Vancetastic said...

You both make a good point that Tom/Joey is not the perfect example of what I'm talking about. More than anything I wanted to explain how I came to the realization about serious men who don't talk much -- I happened to randomly think of A History of Violence, and something clicked. However, Tom/Joey's reasons for his silence have a totally different psychological basis.

Thanks for the shout-out, T!