Last Updated: 06.24 PM, Jun 06, 2022
In Drive My Car, we follow an actor/director’s journey into finding things about another young driver he comes across. Soon, he realizes that she doesn’t just become a vessel for him to get to his house, but also a way to his soul. The film acts as a reminder of how we use art to hide, and eventually, to heal. The images after its 3-hour long runtime leave you with a lingering feeling; like a towel, the film soaks you with subtle emotions, as it moves like a perfectly oiled- machine.
There’s a play within a play in the film, literally, as characters from different backgrounds converse while we see subtitles projected on the screen in multiple languages. The screenplay, adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, is given a universal texture by having characters belonging to different countries (one even communicates through sign language). There’s so much simmering under the dialogue that each frame collectively goes on to create a meditative space for your brain to enter. The film tugs at your heartstrings through the quiet, most mundane moments that run long enough for them to turn into something that goes on to define a character’s arc.
The cast of the play spends the majority of the film’s second act trying to exactly understand when their co-stars begin and stop talking, by using various cues including tapping on the table after each dialogue. It brings to the forefront our abilities to form connections with others without the use of one language. Our protagonist Kafuku’s entire arc is built around slowly letting go of the tape containing his dead wife’s recording of the play’s script, a coping mechanism to deal with her death. By the end, the characters of the play learn of an alternative means of communication. Kafuku, on the other hand, realizes what a distanced person he has become and drives strength within himself to move on through the medium that he’s devoted his whole life to.
There’s a 10-minute scene, entirely set within the backseat of a car where two characters come to terms with unfulfilled emotions — it is the most compelling and emotionally provocative sequence I’ve seen in any film in the past year. Drive My Car is the kind of film that puts you to sleep because of how calming feels in its subtlety at carving out catharsis, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest regard to the craftsmanship on display. It’s fascinating to figure out the themes of such a quiet yet layered film, while watching the nourishment of art itself and how it can keep a person from crumbling.
When Kafuku says he doesn’t want anyone else to drive his car, it’s representative of the grieving and lack of resolution on his part over his wife’s passing. He doesn’t want anyone else to intrude that space, but when he talks about how at peace he feels when Watari drives the car (describing the smoothness with which she drives), it’s implied that he is allowing that side of his to once again be vulnerable, even if it’s not remotely sexual. After they become a catalyst to each other for personal revelations, Kafuku realizes that he can’t build his life around the voice of a dead woman forever.
Good dramas have the potential of ripping off the bandages of your past wounds open. The self-imposed restraint in the first half of the film makes the dialogue and confrontation in the latter half feel much more cathartic; so much of the underlying drama here is purely intuited through silence, that the film takes on a much greater meaning in the second watch. Drive My Car is about the fear of missing out on what the other side has to say and offer, especially when there’s a lack of resolution. The pandemic made us realize the importance of being physically present around people to truly understand them better. Films like these are a reminder of how similar all our methods of grieving can often be. A reminder of how important it is to communicate and be compassionate to people around you.
You can watch the film on Mubi India.