The other day I watched the movie Drive for the first time. I was excited to see it because I heard so much about it.
All year, movie critics had been lauding Drive as one of the best movies of the year. I also kept hearing that the movie was unfairly shut out of the Oscar race this year since it was not nominated for any major category.
So, I was glad to get a chance to finally watch the movie and see what all the fuss was about.
But after I watched the movie, I found myself agreeing with the Academy’s decision: Drive is not, in my opinion, one of the best films of the year. I also don’t think it deserved a nomination for Best Picture.
Style Vs. Substance
I think what people loved about Drive was its style. And as far as style goes, I give the movie an A++.
Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the 80’s, the way the director paid homage to 80’s-type films through the use of style was truly extraordinary.
I also found Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of a stunt-driver moonlighting as a getaway driver to be truly engaging. It was clear he was acting like a cross between a Robert Deniro in Taxi Driver and a James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. (An enticing combination that is sure to make Gosling’s character go down in movie history as one of the most iconic characters in the genre.)
Finally, there was the first 15 minutes of the movie, which featured probably one of the coolest chase scenes in film I’ve ever seen.
But, in the end, although all of these parts were great, they were all still part of the movie’s style. In fact, it’s only the director’s intriguing stylistic choices that even make this movie worth talking about.
That’s because Drive, although stellar in style, lacked in any clear substance.
What Is Style?
I think I have a unique definition of style.
I believe style comes from how other people influence us. Our style comes from how others give us permission to open up the hidden parts of us that want to come out, but can’t otherwise.
Style is often the result of us gathering the alluring pieces of others together, and then making these alluring pieces our own.
For instance, in our writing, we may borrow our passion from Lorca, steal our rawness from Moraga, take our straightforward symbolism from Valdez, grab our specific-yet-universal themes from Hansberry, and snatch up our complicated mixture of matter-of-fact skepticism and deep spirituality from Tolstoy—but only because something about these parts of our favorite authors reflect something true about us, and our style.
In Drive, I could see clear influences from Scarface, The Godfather, and Goodfellas.
(And, of course, it’s most obvious influence,Taxi Driver.)
The “borrowing” of all these stylistic elements, from its predecessors, led Drive to be a movie that was pulsating with something both exciting and compelling.
Unfortunately, there was no substance to back it up.
What Is Substance?
If style is the arrival of our true nature as awakened by others, then substance is our final departure from the influence of others.
Substance is what we bring to the table that others did not—or do not—bring.
And that is why Drive, a movie that was excellent in style, failed completely in substance.
Although it effectively formed its own compelling style, the movie itself didn’t bring anything new to the table. If it told anything, it was simply re-telling a story that Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver already told.
The Key To Mastering Style
I think that the key to mastering style is to study others.
See what you find in them that is reflective of something in you that is itching to come to the surface. Look for other authors, people, or movies that reflect something in you that you want to be, or exemplify. Then borrow, beg, and steal from those sources.
No, I’m not talking about plagiarism. (Uh, that’s illegal.) I’m talking about you using someone else’s sense of style as a guide to finding your own sense of style. Study others to find that part of your essence that is eager to come to the surface, but is too afraid to do so without a role model.
Sometimes we don’t recognize our own style until we see it reflected in someone else. It’s often the case that someone else’s style deeply attracts us, lures us in, and even makes us a bit jealous. This “alluring” style is reflecting a part of you that is ready to be awakened. Take hold of it, then, and add it to your own growing repertoire.
The Key To Mastering Substance
If you’re trying to master substance, you have to ask yourself these questions first:
What do I want to say that no one else has said? What can I bring to the table that no else has?
Once you’ve found the answers to those questions, proceed to say what no one else has said, and proceed to bring to the table something no one else has brought to the table before.
And if you really think you have nothing new to bring to the table, you’re dead wrong.
Don’t believe the lies that they tell you: “idea scarcity” is a big fat myth.
Think about this: there are trillions of souls who are living (and have lived) on this planet and they each represent a single story that is yet to be written.
And you’re telling me that we’ve already finished telling every single story about every single person that has ever lived?
You’ve gotta be kidding me. That’s ridiculous.
Someone who says there are no more ideas left in this world is someone who is either too lazy, or is trying too hard to play it safe by avoiding stories people are too afraid to tell.
And if you’re thinking:
“Well, then. I guess substance takes a lot of courage then. You have to be willing to go where no one else has gone before.”
You’re right. Having substance has a whole lot to do with having the courage to go where no one has gone before, and revealing a part of you that you’re way too afraid to reveal.
Still Hungry For Something Meaningful And New
Style is great, but it doesn’t get you anywhere unless it’s backed up by something that’s meaningful—unless it’s backed up by substance.
In order to have substance, you have to be continually willing to go to a refreshing, truthful place. In my experience, the more you go to a refreshing, truthful place, the more people will be attracted to you.
Well, it’s because style without substance is like a having icing without cake. When you eat it, you get the delicious high from all the sugar, which is nice, but you’re always left feeling hungry afterward.
This is the reason that Drive didn’t make the Oscar race this time around: it was all style—great style—but no substance.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie certainly made for some great “icing” and gave me a wonderful sugar high. But I was still left feeling hungry afterwards.
Still hungry for something meaningful and new.
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