From effective use of lighting and camera work, to costume and set design, every shot in Winding Refn’s Drive had purpose and meaning in telling the story of the Driver.
The opening scene of the movie is a great example of how Refn combined these techniques to effectively create mood and emotion. From the slow tilt, showing the map of the downtown LA area, we reach the softly lit figure of the Driver staring out the window. The lighting, while somewhat isolated and dark, is also motivated; it creates the soft reflection of the Driver on the glass and therefore a sense of mystery.
Another scene of merit is when the Driver spends the afternoon with Irene. The use of lighting – in particular the warm, soft afternoon light – creates a very inviting and gentle mood, one which helps reinforce Driver’s desire for Irene and in a way, his ideal scenario: to be with her. These are just some of the techniques that Refn uses in Drive; from mystery and tension to contentment and desire, the use of effective lighting, amongst other things, helps the mise-en-scene flourish and in conjunction with cinematographic techniques, helps express certain emotions or changing scenarios in the film.
Learning about the craft of cinematography, it was important to recognise the amount of different ways a film can effectively create emotion for the viewer. The art of cinematography – to “express the shifting moods in the story…(or to) express a more personal set of concerns” (Keating, pg.1) – is very much of an expressive nature. This link between cinematography and mise-en-scene helps reinforce particular story-driven elements
For example, much of the film’s mise-en-scene looks to reinforce the skills of the Driver. This can be done through his long, awkward pauses when engaging in social situations, and attention to detail when planning a getaway. This can also be seen through the use of costuming: in the case of the Driver, it is his white jacket and brown driving gloves. This link, however, is magnified by the use of certain camera techniques to enhance the character.
For example, this effective use of camera placement and angles contributes to the connection between characters. When Driver meets Standard for the first time, for example, Standard is seen at a high angle, used to convey his sense of weakness and helplessness. When Driver meets eventual antagonist Bernie in the workshop, Driver is seen from a low angle, making him seem larger and more of an authoritative figure towards Bernie. Making these “photographic decisions” (Gibbs, pg. 1) in both cinematography and mise-en-scene helps portray the characters in different ways and while sometimes unbeknownst to the viewer, it helps push deeper meanings and reinforce story-driven elements in the film.
Gibbs, J. (2002). Mise-en-scene: Film style and interpretation. New York: Columbia University Press.
Keating, P. (2014). Cinematography. Rutgers University Press.