Archive for November, 2011

What’s in a lack of name?

November 7, 2011

There were a few things I didn’t like in Drive, the recent Ryan Gosling, um, vehicle. They largely revolve around the fact that the baddies are defeated not by an uplifting feat of driving in the big stock car race that never materialises, but by a series of stomach-churning killings.

But I can forgive the makers that. It had an 18 certificate after all and neither Carey Mulligan nor Christina Hendricks are at that stage of their careers that a sex scene was on the cards, making a bit of the old ultraviolence inevitable.

When shattered heads weren’t making me wince it was the lengths the script went to avoid naming the protagonist.

Not that having an anonymous lead character is new. There are some valid reasons for doing this:

  1. Hey, this guy is such an outsider, and so mysterious, that his name has been lost somewhere in his dark, dark past
  2. Hey, this story is basically an allegory about today’s society and the protagonist represents the viewer
  3. Hey, the film is based on a novel that’s written in the first person and she manages never to refer to her own name

Of course, a screenwriter can cite any of the above reasons when actually he’s simply a lazy SOB.

It can be done well. A good test of this is when you don’t realise until the credits roll that the plucky young chancer you’ve been cheering on for the last 90 minutes has never revealed who they actually are.

The clue is in the title of Withnail & I but Bruce Robinson manages to get away with it. Arguably he was on safe ground as “I” is actually named Marwood in the script. There are only really two characters with whom Marwood interacts, and both Monty and Withnail are so self-obsessed it’s no wonder they never address him properly.

It works in Fight Club, because Ed Norton’s character narrates the whole damn thing (though even so, his name is probably – SPOILER ALERT – Tyler Durden anyway). And they get around it in the Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy, starring Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name Except When It’s Blondie Or Joe Or Manco”.

When it doesn’t work it jars. In Layer Cake, “XXXX” is having a chat with Michael Gambon who keeps addressing him as “young man” and “dear boy” long past the point when any sane person would have said “I’m sorry – you must forgive me – I’m hopeless with names!”

And in Drive, “Driver” and Irene’s son Benicio are checking out a car or something while garage owner Bernie tells Irene what a great kid “Kid” is and then beckons him over by calling him Kid or Buddy or Champ or something. If I was [rolls eyes] “Driver”, I’d have told Benicio that Bernie meant him, and stayed by the car in a passive-aggressive message to Bernie to call me Dave, goddamnit.

So may I request, Hollywood, that the next time you withhold a name from your hero, at least do something fun with it. Like have all the other characters get his name wrong. Or have the character’s name as “Dave” in the credits.