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This is a "Wild Mass Guess" entry, where we pull out all the sanity stops on theorizing. The regular entry on this topic is elsewhere. Please see this programme note.
Drive
     Drive Movie 
The Driver and Frank have have a lot of similarities. Both are stoic bad ass drivers who like to keep to themselves, they have very few friends (though Driver really only has one), and both are implied to have a dark past. Even though both are stoics, Driver does not say much compared to Frank. The differences is that Frank has a special forces background, is not as cruel to his enemies, and has a calmer personality. The Driver on the other hand has rage issues, is way more vicious to his enemies (there quick but very brutal), is way more of a sociopath, and is not much of a people person. There driving styles also differ: The Driver plays more so cat and mouse with his chasers; Frank likes to draw out and maneuver his chasers. While both have many differences, the two are morally ambiguous characters whom love the thrill of high speed driving.

The Driver is simply just nuts.
Any Dark and Troubled Past the dude might've had was simply brought on by his mental disorder. His childlike demeanor implies, to some, that he's somewhere on the Autism spectrum, but that gives way to a much darker, angrier, more murderous side. It's hinted at, vaguely, that The Driver moved to L.A. to start a new identity, and by the end of the movie he's ready to do it again. He probably started this nomadic lifestyle after killing his family, or getting them killed, and moved from town to town every few years, supporting himself by doing the only thing that brings him real happiness - driving.
  • Not only that - he is driving, because it's the only thing that keeps him from maiming and murdering. That's why he refuses to meddle in his clients' affairs, or bring along weapons; he knows that if he has a gun at his side, he will use it at one point, and he wants to avoid that. Going by the way he threatens Blanche in the motel, he might even go as far as to incorporate rape into his ways.

The Driver is a Terminator.
Ryan Gosling's primary, simply billed as Driver, is an advanced cybernetic organism from the future. He is sent back in time with the mission of protecting a key figure in the resistance: Benicio, the young boy living down the hallway in his apartment complex. However, a miscalculation sends him six years too far into the past. With no recourse to change his situation and a mission still looming in front of him, he settles in Los Angeles. Understanding that his intervention is not necessary until the year in which he was originally intended to arrive, he sets about finding ways to facilitate the task at hand.

He tracks down one of his primary contacts, Shannon, and they form a working relationship that allows him to blend in and obtain an apartment close to the one Irene and Benicio occupy. When Shannon observes The Driver's skills behind the wheel, he finds him work as a stunt driver. Shannon, hoping to capitalize on The Driver's looks and looking to break away from his nefarious entanglements, enrolls him in acting classes in the hopes of getting him bigger parts down the line. The Driver's programming allows for him to process minute human characteristics and emulate them: he is capable of learning and displaying emotion, though somewhat thinly; he creates more natural, somewhat stylized speech patterns and vernacular and can affect different dialects and languages; he can appear to engage in basic necessary behaviors such as eating, drinking, and sleeping. This programming, along with the acting classes and Shannon's mandated diet of action/chase films, leads to The Driver creating a personality, gleaned from everything from Alain Delon in Le Samourai to Steve McQueen in Bullit. This provides The Driver a better opportunity to gain Irene and Benicio's trust without revealing what he really is, as his mission is more infiltration/escort quest than simple search-and-destroy.

Shannon also sets him up with jobs as a wheelman, which he accepts to gain a better understanding of the layout of LA's criminal underworld and to gain the reputation necessary for his role in later events. While he knows the boy will be compromised at some point, it is not known to him where the threat originates, though he knows it to be the result of the boy's father's death in a botched robbery attempt. By using Shannon and his contacts, he is able to assemble a list of candidates responsible for the potential murder of Benicio. Because preemptive strikes against high level crime bosses would create a power vacuum and destabilize the time loop, The Driver is programmed to refrain from violence or even carrying a weapon until the trigger event ( Standard's death), and being so far off from this, it leaves him with little more to do than work odd jobs for Shannon and perfect his human persona.

Years of functioning under an assumed personality leaves The Driver in something of a state of software crisis when he arrives at the time to which he was originally intended to be sent. He is teetering on becoming self-aware, and his prime directive leaves him somewhere close to feeling an attachment to Irene and Benicio. The awkward, not quite right smiles are becoming more frequent, like a glitch or an involuntary tic, when he interjects himself into Irene and Benicio's lives. He's forming habits like going into the same diner for pie and visiting the LA River culvert even when it doesn't serve the purpose of making him appear more human to any of his primaries.

Once he has begun to earn their trust, he takes Irene and Benicio along to the culvert, where the weight of humanness crashes down upon him harder than ever. It is only when Irene informs The Driver that her husband, Standard, is due to be released from prison in a week that the imminence of his mission snaps into focus.

When The Driver later discovers Standard beaten and bloodied in a parking garage with his son standing feet away, presumably a witness to the crime, the objective kicks in. He inserts himself as the wheelman in the robbery of a pawn shop to free Standard from the debt he owes for protection while in prison, knowing that Standard will be killed, which will set off the events that would lead to Benicio's death. During the robbery, a second car arrives and parks adjacent to their car. Standard is shot and killed, The Driver flees, and the second car pursues.

Rather than take the practical route and find out who is responsible for this event from the occupants of the second car prior to the chase or during the assault in the motel room, The Driver's learned instinct kicks in, and his actions take on a considerably more action-heroic tone. He knows that the boy is not yet in imminent danger, so the unconscious urge to be part of a Frankenheimer-esque chase sequence doesn't come into direct conflict with his prime directive. The gray morality, which he earlier considered abandoning for some idyllic existence with Irene and Benicio when asked by a former client about another job, comes roaring back, and the cool calculation with which he slaps and interrogates Blanche, dispatches the hired guns in the motel, assaults Cook with a hammer while utilizing tactics learned from viewings of Oldboy, stomps to bits the head of another mook in an elevator, and stalks Nino into the ocean and drowns him while wearing a featureless mask ala Michael Myers suggests a synthesis of The Driver's core robotic nature and his James Dean-via-John Rambo personality. He's remembering the violence he is not just capable of, but now intended for, and he's inflicting it in increasing extremes and using borrowed concepts in doing so, all while maintaining the same level of utter detachment.

Prior to stepping onto the elevator, The Driver implores Irene to take the money from the heist and use it to get away with Benicio. This is to ensure that no harm will come to them, and he does this in full confidence knowing that she will not accept, as acceptance would lead to a drastic change in the progression of events leading to Judgment Day and Benicio's involvement with the resistance. He offers to come with her because the humanity that is infecting his system wants The Driver to be there with her, but it also serves as a fail-safe in the event of the improbability that she would take the offer. On the elevator, The Driver recognizes that the man in the lift with them is a hostile target, the light takes on a different quality, and he pulls Irene to the side and kisses her. This is as much the human persona taking The Driver over as it is the goal-oriented machine doing the one thing he has learned will keep her with him and out of danger: a physical display of romantic affection. Though it works, it is quickly derailed when the man in the elevator attempts to pull his weapon and The Driver kicks him in the face until his head bursts much like a pumpkin, causing Irene to flee in terror. The look of something like shock that registers on The Driver's face is the machine's attempt to show remorse and lull Irene back into a state of comfort.

Inevitably, when Bernie ensures that Irene and Benicio will have no harm come to them, The Driver can only stare blankly into the future that both his final phone call to Irene and Bernie's speech portend for him. From the latter:

"Here's what I'm prepared to offer: you give me the money, the girl is safe. Forever. Nobody knows about her. She's off the map. I can't offer you the same. So, this is what I would suggest: we conclude our deal, we'll shake hands, you start the rest of your life. Any dreams you have or plans or hopes for your future, I think you're going to have to put that on hold. For the rest of your life, you're going to be looking over your shoulder. I'm just telling you this because I want you to know the truth. But the girl is safe."

When they reach the parking lot, Bernie stabs The Driver, and The Driver returns the favor. Bernie dies on the ground and The Driver retreats to the driver's seat. In the moments that The Driver sits unblinking, his system is attempting to force itself into shutdown, knowing that the mission is complete and that there is no reason for it to continue existing. But the sum total of what The Driver has spent the previous six years learning prevents this: human nature itself, like programs overriding and corrupting the machine. He blinks. And the final shot, a striking parallel to that of Terminator 2, portrays how The Driver will spend eternity: driving down unknown highways and waiting to see what future awaits him around the corner.

And with that, The Driver comes close to or grows to be, as the song played over the culvert scene and final scenes suggests, a real human being and a real hero.

  • Although not my headcannon, this is a very good piece of writing and a very persuasive essay on how the Driver is a terminator. Well done, very well done.

"Drive" is the main character's name/nickname
The credits refer to him not as "the driver", but as "Driver", implying it's a proper name, perhaps his last name. "Drive" is just a natural nickname for that.

The Driver is the same character as Luke from The Place Beyond the Pines.
They are both stunt drivers who turn to crime for the sake of a girl, angering a man more powerful than themselves in the process. They also look completely identical. There is only one explanation.

Hotline Miami is a direct sequel to this movie
Both of the main characters are nameless, and wear a distinctive jacket. Both drive cool cars. Both are blonde. An early mission in the game mentions Jacket 'losing his girlfriend?' Hell, it's already a spiritual successor, why not make it an actual one?

The Driver is Jullian from Only God Forgives
Obviously, both men are played by Ryan Gosling but on top of that, their personalities are nearly identical: quiet, mysterious, and violent. Either Drive is a prequel or a sequel.

The prequel theory: Bernie told the Driver that the mob would be after him for the rest of his life, so fleeing to Thailand to work with his brother was probably the safest bet. This would explain why Jullian seemed reluctant to be in the family business. He wanted to leave the life behind in LA but was trapped working for his insane family.

The sequel theory: We never saw Chang cut off Jullian's arms at the end of OGF, but Jullian really wanted that atonement. Chang, for whatever reason, changed his mind and allowed Jullian to start a new life in LA. In order to make amends for his past crimes, Jullian involved himself in the life of his neighbor and her son, willingly giving up his life to help them out.

     Drive TV Series 

     Drive Webcomic 
The Continuum are actually after the artificial Maker, not the Ring Drive
  • The artificial Maker which the Rogue Maker created was installed in the ship which was found by Conrado Cruz, the first emperor. The continuum were willing to kill their most talented Maker over having created an artificial Maker, so it's possible they're trying to finish the job.
    • Alternately, they're after whatever was in the small box.
Captain Taneel's first name is "Anne"
The Empire will shortly fall into civil war
And Fernando will be responsible. The Tres Primos and related events have strongly hinted that Fernando is the previous Emperor's child, only never had the chance to be acknowledged. He also now has a Fillipod by his side who knows (or knows who knows) how the Ring Drive works, and is part of the quest to find Skitter's people who can pilot the Drive safely. If all the Continuum really cares about is the AI the Rogue Maker downloaded into his ship (and which may now be threaded through every human Ring Drive and the FTL communications network), then he could even possibly turn over his own ship's "tainted" Drive as a sign of good faith to get the Continuum on board with helping him build "clean" ones and rise up against the Empire. When all is said and done, Fernando will lead - personally or as a figurehead - a civil war against the usurper Emperor; but the cat will be out of the bag regarding the Drive, forcing human society to become more open.
DreamsWMG/FILMDredd

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