Baby Driver. B. A. B. Y. Baby. I could not love this film more if I tried. Edgar Wright is easily one of the best director’s working today, and all of his films are amongst my favourite films. They have been some of the funniest and most cinematically impressive films of the last 14 years. But for me there’s two things that stand out about Edgar Wright’s films that set them apart from all the other comedies that have come out in the same period (and for the record, yes I know Baby Driver isn’t really a comedy): Firstly, he generates humour cinematically. What do I mean by this? He takes what could be mundane scenes and injects them with a kinetic energy and humour that can only exist on the screen. These aren’t funny lines, or just funny performances. They are moments where the effectiveness of them is rooted in the uniquely cinematic disciplines of editing, sound design, and cinematography. See this video for more on that: https://vimeo.com/96558506
But that’s not what we’re majoring on today. I mentioned there’s two things that set his films apart, and the second is this: his films are actually ABOUT something. They have genuine heart. And this is what I want to get onto with Baby Driver. But to do that, I need to describe my experience on my first viewing of the film. So let’s throw this in reverse and head back to Baby Driver’s opening night, with me and my buddy Jeff at the Eldorado theatre.
The first thing I remember feeling as the credits rolled was that I loved it, but there was one small thing that disappointed me. I wanted one more big car chase at the end. The car chases in this film are easily some of the best ever, and so much fun (you can view the opening chase in full here). And I craved another one. Another hit of that adrenaline. And I could pinpoint the moment in the film where I wanted it, and where I didn’t get it. I thought about this long and hard because Edgar Wright is a very, very clever director. Almost everything in his films has a reason for being there. So I thought about what the film is about, and that maybe I was meant to feel disappointed that I didn’t get one more hit of adrenaline. That maybe that was the entire point of what the film, on some level, was about. And that’s what we’re going to get into now.
Baby is a driver. A getaway driver. His job is to run away. And he is surrounded in his job by people who make a great deal of dishonest cash by breaking the law, then running away. It’s exciting. It’s thrilling. And the people involved in it are hooked on that feeling. So what does a clever director do with his audience? He gets you hooked on that feeling too. This is not unusual in films. I remember watching The Matrix over and over again as a teenager, and all I wanted was the adrenaline of the action scenes. Same with Home Alone. It was all about the action, the rush, the laughter. That’s a big part of why we go to the movies. But Edgar Wright uses that to actually say something. Our hunger as an audience in this film is the same hunger as the criminals. It’s the rush. The chase. The action. And for the film’s big climax what do we expect? That we will be delivered the biggest adrenaline rush of them all. This will be the chase to end all chases. And guess what? It isn’t. It’s brilliant, but it’s not the best chase of the film. It’s not even a chase. And this was what disappointed me, until I thought about it.
It’s Baby vs Buddy (I love the character names in this film). Buddy wants Baby dead, because Baby has blood on his hands. In particular Buddy’s lady love, Darling. And it starts as a chase, but with Baby driving in reverse, facing Buddy. (Take note of that, he’s still running, but he’s turned and facing him.) Then it ends with Baby and Buddy slamming into each other, fender to fender, Baby trying to push Buddy’s car off the top level of a parking garage. He doesn’t run anymore. He know he has to face this, he has to end it. Because the consequences of what he’s done aren’t going away.
Fast forward to a few minutes later and Baby and Deborah have escaped. They’re free, driving down the highway. And they get stopped by a massive squad of police cars. And in that moment they have a choice. Run, or face what he’s done. And a big part of you wants them to run again. What a way to end the film that would’ve been. They look each other in the eye. Baby gives Deborah a small nod, and she slams the pedal to the floor, pulls a screaming u turn and they tear up the highway into the distance with the police on their tail. Roll credits with yet another perfect music choice that makes you want to speed just enough to feel cool while driving home. End with the adrenaline. End with a potential sequel. But nope. Based off what Baby just did with facing Buddy what do you think he’ll do? That’s right, face it. Face the consequences. He pulls the key out the ignition, steps out of the car, and let’s the police take him.
This is the moment Baby becomes a hero. This is the moment where the film went from being just another thrill-ride distraction to actually having something to say to you. And this is it: heroes have to make the boring, difficult choices. Heroes know they have to face the consequences of what they’ve done and make it right. And heroes are looking out for others. If Baby had kept running he would have doomed Deborah to a life of crime, and her inevitably being convicted alongside him when they were caught. And Baby was guilty. He had done wrong. So because he’s a hero, he says no to the rush, to running. And he turns and faces what he’s done. This is what real heroes do. It’s dad’s saying sorry to their kids and admitting they got it wrong. It’s alcoholics admitting they have a problem and making the boring hard choices of getting free of it (see Edgar’s last film, The World’s End). It’s people owning their own mistakes as part of a team and making it right, not blaming others. It’s couples learning to let go of the rush and the adrenaline of a shouting fight to prove their right, and knowing maybe it’s better to quietly admit you’re wrong, and deal with the consequences.
We want the rush. We want the excitement. We want to keep running. But often real life, and the path to a deeper more satisfying life, is to stop. To face yourself. Own it. Make the hard choices to make things right in your life that just aren’t. If it means tears, if it means uncomfortable conversations, then take a deep breath, and do it. Baby spent years in prison, alone, separate from the one he loved. But that’s the price he had to pay to have what’s better than the rush and the momentary high. On the other side is a life of no more running, no more hiding, and the people you love waiting for you, free from secrets and fear.
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