Monday, July 10, 2017

Baby Driver, Nostalgia within the Digital Age

Baby Driver is the latest from comedy director Edgar Wright, widely known for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World movies. The latest, an action movie, stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, Lily James as the love interest, Kevin Spacey as crime boss, and Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eliza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx as a collection of baddies hired on to pull off an assortment of heists. Baby is the reluctant and very skilled getaway driver, paying off a debt to Spacey's character. Baby also happens to always have earbuds in, listening to a wide spectrum of jams to distract himself from his tinnitus, providing a bangin' soundtrack and central component of the movie. Baby Driver isn't revolutionizing the heist/car action movie genre from a narrative standpoint but the generally positive reviews are instead geared more towards the car chase choreography, use of music, and quippy performances by the stacked cast.

Baby's vast and varied music collection is provided through a variety of clickwheel iPods which he yanks from the various cars he lifts, each coming with a handful of musical gems. In our smart phone world, the clickwheel iPods are now outdated, reminiscent of the decade past. The iPod revolutionized the way we listen to music and then, just as quickly, became relics of yesteryear. For me, the aughts (2000-2009) encapsulated my high school and college years and thus were formative to my music sensibilities, primarily delivered through the mode of a handheld device with the sole purpose of bringing music to my ears. The clickwheel iPod produces a nostalgia to my thirty year old self. The clickwheel iPod is my vinyl.

Ansel Elgort, driving with earbuds
With Baby having earbuds in the majority of the movie, the movie has music playing nearly from start to finish. While Baby has a medical impetus to keep the music going, he fulfills my late high school mantra to "soundtrack my life," wherein I would throw in my earbuds walking between classes, while driving to and from school, or while hanging out in my room. The way Baby uses music, covering every moment, is a reflection of the revolutionary iPod. While previously, Walkmans and Discmans created a continual escape for music geeks, the iPod had the battery life and music range to keep me entrenched for most of my waking hours.

Perhaps I'm fighting my age, but is feeling nostalgic for a time era less than twenty years prior a more recent phenomenon? It's reminiscent of Richard Linklater's movie Boyhood's use of music. The 2014 movie was filmed over a twelve year period and showcased music from the years leading up to its release date. I remember when Gotye's Somebody I Used to Know played in the movie and, within a matter of three years, I had totally forgotten the song existed and yet was totally taken back in time, albeit a short trip back.

Baby Driver's use of the clickwheel iPod doesn't seem intent on taking its viewers back to a previous age as much as to signify a peculiarity on Baby's part that is both strange and yet relatable. Regardless, my nostalgia radar went off. Perhaps my experience of watching the movie differs than others as it relates to nostalgia, specifically for those in different age demographics. Do others feel the same way when they encounter products, devices, or methods in movies based distinctly in the past? Is the use of nostalgic artifacts a lazy form of audience connection in any way? Is nostalgia for the recent past another sign of the digital age, time moving at an accelerated pace? Just a few questions to chew on. Baby Driver was good; go see it if you like light, fast-moving, music heavy action movies.

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