Baby Driver and the Art of Letting Go

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver first and foremost delivers on sheer entertainment value; it cannot help but be fun. The premise of a getaway driver who obsesses over music and synchronizes his driving and actions to the music delivers all the satisfaction of a well-choreographed dance while retaining all of the fun and intensity of high-speed car chases. With these two combined in such an incredibly skillful way, Baby Driver achieves a level of entertainment that few action films can match.

But the movie goes beyond the mere surface level Driving Action flick like Fast and Furious, and uses its roaring and fun elements to get at something deeper. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop here. Really, stop. Get the movie at the library or rent it for a couple bucks. There’s something so magical about watching this movie not knowing where you’re going, just along for the ride, and there’s some major spoilers ahead.

Through the course of the entire movie, Baby, the movie’s protagonist, is driven by one thing: to get out, to escape the criminal life and live the life that he’s always wanted. He finds the impetus for that escape when he falls in love with Debora, a girl working at a diner he frequents, and he finds the means to actually get out when he finally repays Doc, the mastermind behind the heists. That desire to get out burns within him; it drives him. This desire drives the same boy who flinches away from the violence of his fellow criminals at the beginning of the movie to later murder one of his crew members named Bats in cold blood. Even when everything’s about to come crashing down on top of him, Baby keeps going – there doesn’t seem like there’s anything that could possibly stop him. 

But then comes the moment, at the end of the film, when Baby wakes up in the car next to Debora after having fallen unconscious. They’ve buried the last of their criminal associates, and they think for a glorious moment that they’ve finally achieved their dream, only to find a police barricade blocking their way. Again, the odds seem impossible. Debora shifts the car into reverse, and the audience holds their breath, waiting to find out what impossible stunts they’ll pull off to escape that will manage to top the past hour of car chases and action sequences they’ve just watched. Then Baby stops the car. He kisses Debora, taking the keys out of the ignition at the same time. He steps out of the car, and he surrenders. He gives up on the dream of a better life that has been driving him the entire movie. He takes the keys—the only way to his dream—and throws them into the river.

Why? Why, at the climax of the movie, does Baby give up? Why does he let go when all the other times he kept going? What makes this time different? Beyond being at the climax of the movie Edgar Wright explores this theme throughout his movie, and again and again poses the question: “When should you let go of something?” 

Even though in all of the heist scenes Baby is surrounded by ruthless criminals, Wright  makes it clear to the audience that Baby is different from the people around him. He’s constantly called a “good kid” by his criminal associates, and even occasionally chided him for his soft heart. Each of Baby’s criminal friends are single-mindedly devoted to one cause: Buddy and Darling are so obsessed with sex that Buddy will kill anyone who looks at Darling wrongly. Doc is so devoted to power and theft that he even sends his nephew out to scout targets. And Bats is so infatuated with thrills that he robs a random convenience store even when it might jeopardize the mission.

But though Baby is equally dedicated to his vision of a better life, he recognizes that some things are simply more important than his vision of a free life on the road with a lovely girl at his side. He values protecting other people more than achieving his dream, and he lives out that conviction throughout the movie. Right before his crew commits a robbery, he warns a teller not to go into the building, he returns a woman’s purse after stealing her car, he helps a mother get her baby out of another car that the crew is stealing, and he even stops Bats from shooting the stout-hearted vigilante who comes chasing after them. All of these things cost him precious time, bringing Baby’s vision for his future into danger. But he decides they are worth it to him. He holds his vision firmly, but he doesn’t cling to it so tightly that he can’t let go if there is something more important at stake.

And in that scene on the bridge there is something more important at stake: Debora. Her life is at stake, certainly; She had almost just been murdered in front of his very eyes as he sat helpless to save her. But even more importantly, her character is at stake. Baby has just been forced to kill people, when before he’d hardly touch a gun. He’s experienced firsthand how destructive and brutalizing a life on the run must be, how it forces him into wickedness out of desperation. And even more, he’s just seen Debora strike Buddy out of necessity—a strike which incidentally killed him. Her hands have already been sullied; how much more will they have to be if they keep running? No, Debora’s character, Debora’s innocence, is more important to Baby than his dream. So he throws the dream into the river, and says goodbye.

Baby makes the sacrifice that Doc refuses to make when Doc doesn’t let Baby get out even after repaying his debt. Baby gives up on his dreams for the sake of another, for the sake of their character, their soul. And so we come to the end of the movie and Baby’s final judgement. The testament, the eulogy, if you will, of his life comes down to this: not the songs he listened to, not the cars he drove, nor even how diligently he pursued his dream. It’s the good things he’s done, the ladies he’s helped, the lives he’s saved, and the foster father he’s protected. After five short years in prison, he gets out on parole, and finally achieves his dream—no running required, no strings attached. Baby even reassumes his birth name, his true name: Miles. He finally escapes the world of crime, filled with its trite nicknames and brutal violence, into the world of innocence where Debora stands waiting to greet him. Baby’s day of judgement comes, and he is given his dream as a reward for the good that he has done.

Unlike Baby, however, we may not get a day when a judge or a human authority will say “You are a good man, here is your dream.” We may look at overflowing courts, expensive and crooked lawyers, and uncaring judges and think that justice will never be served, that no benefits will come from being a good man or for sacrificing your dreams for higher things. But, as Christians, we can look forward to a day when all men will stand before God in final judgement, when justice tempered by abounding mercy and forgiveness in Christ will be served. In that final court they will not read off your resume, nor your list of achievements or prizes, but the people whose lives you touched. They will not praise you for achieving your dreams or being a perfect student, but for choosing to let go of those dreams when the time comes, for sacrificing them for another’s character, another’s life, every moment of every day in the minute and in the monumental. And then, by God’s grace, we shall go to a place far greater than anything that we could possibly imagine or dream of. We shall escape this world of sin, filled with its triteness and brutal violence and corruption, and enter a world of true purity and true rest. 

Calvin DeGraaf is a freshman intending to study English.

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