[Drive] is a portrayal of masculinity in crisis. What does it mean to be a Man? Gosling’s Driver is a man apart from himself, confusedly trying to find some outlet for his identity through his conception of masculinity (i.e. power and violence). Consider the shocking, sudden instance of the Driver striking Christina Hendricks’ character and looming over her on the hotel bed. His masculinity, this sense of male domination, is a regulation of his vast internal disarray. The robbery had just gone monumentally to hell and this is how he manifests and curtails his panic; Mickey Spillane style. And there is no doubt, it is the archetype of the Masculine Hero that the Driver attempts to embody. Remember that brief moment of the Driver and Benicio watching an offscreen TV and the Driver asking Benicio, How do you know he’s a bad guy? Benicio replying, He’s a shark. Driver saying, A shark can’t be a good guy?
Returning to that hotel scene, there is something rather poignant I’d like to point out. After the brief but awful carnage has subsided—in the film’s first real ‘Action’ scene—the Driver emerges from the shadowy bathroom into light, his face marred with rained blood. He has entered a new form, a new self. Maybe all those recurrent bloodstains hearken back to this initial, gruesome ambiguous baptism. He has entered another zone of self, and will continue to go further, in pursuit of this sense of affirmation attained through his violent expression of being a rightful Male Hero Who Gets Revenge (the action star). One of the most poignant and telling moments in regards to the film’s concern with archetypal maleness is when the Driver tells Mulligan’s Irene that she can have the robbery money and they could run away together, and in a moment that plays truly pathetically, so that he could “take care of her”. He is hopelessly confused, suffocating in the notions of what he thinks he is supposed to do and be. Shortly after, it’s then a helpless, childlike sense of shame attendant upon his face as turns around to look at Mulligan after killing the hitman. There is a slight strain of sexual shame in the image here—his agitated sweating visage, all strained and heaving—the nakedness of the thing, the dumb primality. This is the fruit of his struggle for a meaningful sense of self. It is an extension of that charged, nervous ambiguity we saw in the hotel bathroom. (x)