How does the male protagonist in the movie "Drive" differ from typical film noir male protagonists?

Seminar Paper, 2017

16 Pages


Table of Content
Introduction ... 3
2. Film Noir Conventions ... 4
as a Neo-Noir ... 7
4. Analysis of male protagonist ... 10
4.1 Profession and ethical standards ... 10
4.2 Driver - a hardboiled male? ... 13
5. Shift of masculinity ... 15
6. Works Cited ... 16

1. Introduction
Masculinity in the movie
is not illustrated according to the genre
conventions and may signify a shift of the genre´s stereotypical manliness towards a
more family oriented and in general softer male.
In this term paper, film noir as a mode in the 1940s, specificly the role of the male
protagonist, will be examined and applied to the movie
(2011). First of all, it is
important to provide a theoretical foundation. Therefore, the main elements that mark
a film noir as such and its historical background will be briefly portrayed. Afterwards it
will be discussed in how far the movie can be seen as a product of film noir or not,
where the possibility of it being a Neo-noir is taken in to consideratiom. This is
obligatory information for the following chapters hence they observe the protagonist of
the movie, with respect to his correspondence with the characteristic hard-boiled male
in film noir. Concluding, the analysis of the protagonist´s chraracter in comparison to
the typical hard-boiled male is going to be evaluated and it will be pointed out what
effect it has on masculinity.

2. Film Noir Conventions
The following chapter will provide the main chracteristics of film noir. Even if it is difficult
to identify a film noir as such, there are certain elements to be portrayed, which can
be classified as typically noir. The main object of enquiry in this paper will be the
character of the masculine protagonist. Nevertheless it is important to also get an
overview of the other chararcters except the male antihero, as they are in constant
interaction with him. On top of that the chapter will illustrate common themes and
narrative as well as cinematic strategies of film noir. This theoretical introduction will
serve as basis for the analysis of the protagonist´s character and is essential as it will
be examined in how far the protagonist of the movie
differs from the
characteristic film noir male protagonist.
After the second world war, french film critics discovered a new style of films, when
showing American films in french theatres was legalized again (cf. Belton 222). They
coined the term "Film Noir" to describe a specific trend in American black and white
films of the fourties and fifties. The productions were completely different than the
former American Hollywood productions as they featured different camera angles,
different lighting and even a new narrative style (cf. Belton 228). However film noir can
not be seen as a genre, as it is a mixture of different movie genres. It was influenced
by philosophical tendencies of existentialism, surrealism, nihilism and poetic realism,
where nihilism is very present in film noir. This senselessness in life can be perceived
in most films noirs, because everything seems fathomless and arbitrary that a very
negative atmosphere is communicated. The mysterious and dark mood which is
evoked in film noir ocurrs because the filmmakers attempted to illustrate the post-war
times in an authentic way. Apart from that fim noir also thematises the "isolation of the
individual in industrialized, mass society" (Belton 226). Furthermore the genre can be
seen as an opposite to the American Dream (cf. Selmann 15), as it portrays the world
as a dangerous, dark and sad place and is said to cause a feeling of anxiety among
spectators. Concluding, the term "noir" does refer to the content as well as to the visual
elements of the films. Even if products of the genre do not encompass social criticism
explicitly they should raise awareness about the predominant power imbalances and
major social and economic difficulties. In general film noir was, to a great extrent,
inspired by the American hard-boiled and pulp-fiction as "[...] nearly 20 percent of the
films noirs made between 1941 and 1948 were adaptions of hard-boiled novels [...]"

(Belton, 221/222). Topics like crime, murder, violence or corruption were adapted from
the hard-boiled fiction. American movies like
"The Maltese Falcon"
(1941) and
Big Sleep"
(1946), based on the novels written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond
Chandler were seen as representative for the genre in America´s fourties and fifties.
In film noir the private eye is indispensible - a circumstance clearly caused by the
influence of detective novels. The first character type to be introduced is the male
antihero, who is usually the protagonist and can, but does not have to be a detective.
He strays the world of the film on his own, as he is not the social type. On top of that
he seems to be a middle-class person of intellect and cultivation, but prestige does not
mean anything to him (cf. Selmann 15). He can either be a highly aggressive and
egoistic person or be loyal and act responsibly, the spectrum is very wide. Even if the
profession of a private eye is archetypical for the male protagonist in fim noir he can
also have a different profession. Overall it is important to see him in contrast to the
executionary power (police) as he may have a personal interest or financial motivation
to investigating and oscillates between law and disorder. Another typical type of
protagonist is the amnesiac, who "eptomize[s] the social estrangement and
psychological confusion that had settled the formally healthy American psyche after
the war" (Belton 227), who is very similar to the "noir psychopath" (Spicer 88) . They
can both play the role of the criminal, who is obviously essential for the plot, as without
him the detective-like character would be superfluous. Nonetheless they have to be
distinguished from the prototypical gangster, who belongs to a gang and strives after
wealth and appreciation of others. This image seemed outdated for the American
society living in the post-war times. The audiende craved for a rounder character, a
person who seems to be trapped in his own world, trying to escape, and is
psychologically more complex than the gangster. As opponent to the male antihero,
acts the femme fatale. She does not reflect the role of a woman in the post-war times,
as she is definately not the soft, caring mother and could rather be described as a
beautiful, independent, strong, dark, cold and sexually charming human being. In the
daytime she might seem like a normal independent, solitary woman who follows her
job but especially in the nighttime her criminal tendencies are revealed. The male
protagonist is usually tempted by her sexuality, where the indepence and strength of
the women embodies a threat to the patriarchal system. Thus it is the interplay of
intimidation and attraction of danger that ties the man to her. She often suceeds in
seducing and uses her power over the man for her own end. This deviousness is also

one of her characteristic traits but moreover is she ruthless, because she would do
almost everything to geht her will or use somebody for her own interests. Above all,
film noir depicts a world of characters trapped in circumstances that they did not wholly
create and form which they cannot break free, characters hopelessly isolated and all
but immobilized in moral dilemmas (cf. Conard 93). The setting is mostly a big
american city with its scary and dangerous night hours. As consequence, anonymity,
corruption and violence are frequent topics of the genre. The narration is shaped by
an elliptic structure, is very complex and mostly has a rather unhappy ending.
Elements like flashbacks or voice-overs are often employed to illustrate the
entanglement of the plot thus creating a higher density. As the plot is often predictable
the anachronistic presentation of events is not problematic for the viewer. Other than
that, frequent devices like the voice-over or the point-of-view shot, which mostly
illustrate the protagonists perspective, can give the movie an overall subjective
undertone. Viewers can definately benefit from that as they get an insight into the
protagonist and may sympathize with him. This anticipation of subjectivity through
cinematic techniques is also direct criticism of the conventional angles and elements
in Hollywood films (cf. Selmann 221-225). Since classical film noirs were shot in black
and white, it was much easier to present a dark mood than it is now with color movies.
When speaking of cinematic techniques in film noir lighting has to be the most
important device. Playing with light and shadow is used to convey the genre´s dark
and mythical tone but also goes in line with the anonymity in the city, because only the
silhouette of a person can be seen but not its whole outward appearance nor its
character. Majority of the scenes in film noir are set at nighttime so light is merely
existant, or just present in a dimmed form. Regarding light, rain also plays an important
role for the aesthetics of the genre. In films noirs it is mostly raining or has just stopped
raining so that with the influence of lowkey lighting and shadows the rain looks like a
black paste on all surfaces and the whole setting seems to be covered with a thick,
dark veil. This clearly goes in line with the atmosphere of desillusionment and despair
in the post-war time.
Excerpt out of 16 pages


How does the male protagonist in the movie "Drive" differ from typical film noir male protagonists?
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film noir, driver, ryan gosling, filmanalysis, masculinity
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Greta Deinert (Author), 2017, How does the male protagonist in the movie "Drive" differ from typical film noir male protagonists?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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