03 January 2011

Driven to Kill

United States – 1990
Director – John Gazarian
PM Home Video, 1992, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 30ish minutes

No matter how you slice it, the title for John Gazarian’s only film Driven To Kill (okay, he did write one other) is heavily laden with meaning. The plot concerns a husband and wife, Harry and Vivian with the full range of marital problems. After sleeping with another man in large part due to Harry’s alcoholic inattentiveness, Vivian has decided to take Harry to Vegas and get him laid. I guess the plan was to assuage her guilt and his anger, to try and wipe the slate clean, or at the very least level the playing field. It is here, during the happy couple’s drive across the Nevada desert in a wood paneled station wagon that the metaphorical layers, both explicit and implicit in the films title, begin to peel away.

The term “driven” holds both literal and metaphorical significance of course, not the least in the fact that Harry and Vivian are actually driving a car for most of the movie. But both are being psychologically driven as well. Of course, that was Gazarian’s intention in naming the film; “Look, they’re actually driving, and being driven! Get it? Eh, do ya?” But the real significance of this brilliant double-entendre comes when we ask what, or who is doing the second type of driving?

In the first case, Harry is literally driving the station wagon, but Vivian is psychologically driving him through sheer guilt and nagging. Of course after stealing some mob money from a bunch of drunken bikers who stole the money from the mob (who stole it from some gangstaz in the opening minutes of the film, this is all deeply metaphorical but I’m getting to that), you could say that the bikers and ultimately the mob are “driving” both Harry and Vivian like prey before the predator.
But it gets even better. As a white heterosexual middle-class male, Harry is the real victim. Not only is he captured, threatened with death, beaten and shot at after escaping, but he also suffers under the unceasing and emasculating attack of Vivian’s rebellion, he is literally the paradigm of U.S. American normalcy persecuted from all sides. Making Harry a dentist offers more than an opportunity to write a few shitty jokes, it puts him in a respectable but potentially vulnerable social niche. His status is one from which he has been symbolically driven (his alcoholism is a loss of dignity and self-responsibility) by “Others” and from whom he must seek to reclaim it for rest of the film.

Consider that by the end of the 80’s, the consolidation (see also bureaucratization or ossification) of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements had robbed a great deal of thunder from the straight white man’s formerly unassailable position at the top of the socio-economic heap. No matter how you dissect it, from the gangstaz in the opening scene to the mulleted bikers in all the rest, from any angle Harry’s rivals are clearly outside his singular sacrosanct demographic. Nor should we forget the final revolt from the woman whose proper role is that of docile and sexually available wife. Vivian’s self-awareness and fledgling self sufficiency are thoroughly transgressive. Little wonder that the white male is the victim of all these social upheavals, and is forced to redeem himself; to claw his way back to righteous indignation. Thus we have Harry, driven by the very forces of cultural progress to reclaim his birthright. By now it should be obvious that Harry is only doing what he had to do to re-establish the status quo. He was driven to kill for the very identity and manhood of all (white) men, profoundly represented by an Uzi, a duffel bag full of cash and a cowed, repentant woman. Driven To Kill is truly a balmy salve, a commiserating cry in the PC wilderness to the weary and besieged WASP male for whom, as we now know, life just isn’t fair.

A shorter version of this review appeared in Paracinema Magazine # 10.


Ty said...

Hi, The Goodkind! Do you mind if we use your Driven To Kill cover for our upcoming review?

We will also happily give you credit\link to your review too. If not, no problem.

The Goodkind said...

Sure, and thanks. I look forward to reading what you have to say about this stinker.

Ty said...

Thanks! We thought it was a dud also. Hopefully we will post it soon. We have a huge backlog of reviews!