In a year where David Bruckner’s The Night House also makes way into theaters — a mocked-up Blumhouse-looking picture that, in spite, subverts conventional modern scares for the rather burdening progression of coming to terms that you never fully knew the lover you lost — and Michael Sarnoski’s Pig may even come to mind in this case too — a directorial debut that impressively unsettles viewers into the never-ending battle of living with the death of a loved one as if it were an eternal curse — comes Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour-long Drive My Car, which as you may have already guessed, is passed the baton of this premise but with an alternatively gripping lived-in tone to compliment the truly lethargic nature of being stuck pondering and pondering on the deceased, and not so much on straightforwardly exclaiming that the distraction or denial from reality is there as The Night House did; rather so, it showcases how an emotionally tampered with investigation periodically becomes either the cause or effect of it. This isn’t strictly a “run away from the truth” situation, but perhaps a hybrid that infers how seeking to learn only encourages you to assume the worst extremes in order to disengage, yet later on moves you to some actual truth so that the blow becomes lessened by those initially subjective realities you had convinced yourself of. Yet, calling it “lessened” in regards to Hamaguchi’s work barely seems to be speaking a truth itself; the lack of closure is just THAT immovably painful to our characters.
But there is also the discussion of the “two unlikely friends” piece that Hamaguchi brings to the story, as well as how he uses the theater arts as an expression of wanting to discover, though the movie assures you the journey of committing to the process will not be automatic for the individual but instead take a therapeutically lengthy amount of time to commit. Yūsuke and Misaki’s bond though works in adding charm and universal relation to the film, but the coincidental destiny of their meeting isn’t nearly the most interesting aspect of the film to me despite it saying bits about how we host the living with the dead through our struggles, just as the theater acting part of the story does with fiction and reality.
Case in point, Drive My Car is defined by so much that it’d probably take rewatches upon rewatches to jot it all down, but to at least my knowledge, it gripped me most whenever it proved how letting someone flawed — like any other human being on the planet as much as we’d love to romanticize the idea of perfect partners — pave the rest of our lives, even after they have left, requires an extensive journey ahead but one that uniquely states the longer it is, the better. It presents understanding as a manipulative sequence of regrets for not letting the mystery unravel slower so that you can ultimately allow yourself to be metaphysically stuck hand in hand back into the life with the one you dearly miss; forgetting because of answers would be the end goal nightmare in this scenario, which funny enough, seems almost polar opposite to what Pig had to say.
Despite some of my favorite moments of the year popping up in Drive My Car because of the weight Hamaguchi delivers, I did feel as if the climax and ending kind of phoned in the pathos and messages a tad too expressively when they were already apparent before, although, I guess I can accept that we have to see the characters find revelation in themselves given that us as an audience have a privileged, easier-to-decode outsider view of what’s going on with these few personalities, but other than that, this film is just gorgeously demanding.
“Drive My Car” is now playing in select theaters.