Warning — spoilers contained in the following conversation:
HE: I just came out of Drive My Car. Obviously a good solemn film that conveys many unsaid things, but slow, long and quite pretentious and even a tiny bit banal toward the end. Not my idea of the Best Picture of 2021, I can tell you that. Nothing like a little Uncle Vanya to clear out the psyche and open up the closets of suppressed feelings, right?
Friendo: I was totally swept up in it. I didn’t find it banal at all. It is, however, “life-affirming,” so you could make the argument that it’s a feel-good movie dressed in austere Japanese art-film clothing.
HE: That sounds about right.
HE: We will suffer and stumble and weep at times, but go on living.
Friendo: But this isn’t Uncle Vanya! I’ve never much embraced the life-staggers-on quasi-pessimism of that play. Drive My Car uses Uncle Vanya, but it’s a far more bracing and uplifting work.
HE: I lost patience when the young woman driver started telling her longish story about not rescuing her mother from the crushed house. That’s when I said, “Okay, this has gone far enough.”
Friendo: I was completely held by that. Great story…truthful and quietly gripping. Why did you check out of that?
HE: I’m not dismissing it. The scene in which the young actor more or less confesses to having had sex with the director’s late wife…that’s the best scene in the film. I just felt that the familiar and borderline banal payoff (we must all stagger on) was too long in arriving.
Friendo: Good scene. But I thought everything in the movie worked. Thought the last part with the driver was powerful, and that the onstage Vanya stuff was cathartic.
HE: Why did the young good-looking actor beat to death a guy who took his picture? What was THAT about?
Friendo: The guy was sick of getting his picture taken, so he was kind of like a Sean Penn who went too far.
HE: Japan looks so super-developed. So bland, so nothing. So many freeways and high-rises. Depressing.
Friendo: The message of this movie is: We go down into the depths, we touch our tragedy, and we transcend it. We can escape it. That’s not Vanya.
HE: If you say so. What was the female driver doing with his red Saab at the very end? And what was with the dog? That said, I agree that it’s humanistic and even Ozu-like.
Friendo: Yes, and uplifting!
HE: A two-hour film that lasts 179 minutes can’t be uplifting.
Friendo: A quiet humanistic film is never allowed to be three hours?
HE: All I know is that I began rolling my eyes during the crushed house monologue. And they both wouldn’t stop smoking cigarettes.
Friendo: I like it when characters in movies smoke! I think we need more of that! It’s expressive, and it’s real, and it’s not all healthy-woke-pious.
HE: Too much smoking is a drag. An occasional cigarette is fine.
Friendo: I think it has an element of profundity. The journey the hero takes. It’s a psychologically original movie about an eternal primal theme: loss.
HE: So the 47 year-old husband, who never squawked about his wife’s many infidelities, feels badly that he wasn’t gracious or supporting enough? ‘I love you, dearest…please don’t mind me while you’re blowing the latest guy.’
Friendo: The reason he never squawked about her infidelities, and even tacitly encouraged them, wasn’t that he was some dickless milquetoast. It was all about the death of their daughter, the kind of tragedy that most couples don’t survive. This was their way out of it.
HE: An affair or two on the side, okay. But compulsive infidelity as a way of coping with the death of a daughter? Better to divorce and go their separate ways. Too passive, too melancholy, too buried, too morose. The director was, on a certain level, a dickless milquetoast,
Friendo: They decided it was better to do this than divorce. There are plenty of couples (without that kind of tragedy) that essentially do the same thing.
HE: Okay. Look, I didn’t hate it, and I’m certainly not dismissing it. But what a cloud of relentless gloom. The wife was fascinating, and yet she died early on. Too grim, too doleful.