*Spoilers ahead (including the ending).*
Before the movie begins, the writer and director Edgar Wright himself takes a moment to thank the audience for watching Baby Driver. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a nice touch. You don’t see that much.
Another thing you don’t see much is when there’s next to no talking in the first ten minutes of a movie. Yet it’s intriguing because all the visuals and the music do the storytelling. The number one rule in writing is “show don’t tell” which Wright utilizes beautifully throughout the entire ride. Like I said in a recent post, I love it when writers use different techniques and/or take a new approach to a story that’s been told hundreds of times. For time’s sake, I’m going to focus on the music.
Usually no one gives a damn about the getaway driver, and usually the music is added during post-production. Wright wrote the script according to the list of songs he had on hand (as explained in this short video on Twitter)… kind of like a musical. Honestly it feels like one in the beginning: After the first heist, there’s a continuous shot of Baby going on a coffee run and jamming to “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl, having a jaunt in each step. The audience is completely immersed in his perspective, the music drowning out the sounds of the world to the point of them being faint background noise. The fact that he bumps into people and almost gets hit by a car doesn’t seem to faze him.
The cool thing is that not only does the music convey the mood and emotions of the scenes: You get a glimpse of Baby’s personality. He is the quiet protagonist who uses music as an escape from his tinnitus (“a hum on the drum,” according to the criminal mastermind Doc), as well as means of protection and isolation. He also uses sunglasses for that. Except for when he’s at home with his foster dad Joseph (and later with the waitress Deborah), he always wears shades and headphones as a shield against the criminal elements surrounding him.
Baby isn’t a bad person. He’s a kind, genuinely caring guy who got into trouble when he was younger. All he wants is to pay off the debt he owes Doc so that he can live an honest life. He actually seems untouched by his work in the sense that it hasn’t made him bitter, or molded him into a person like trigger-happy Bats who enjoys the thrill of robbing and killing people.
It might be on account of the bond he has with his foster dad – an elderly, deaf man in a wheelchair – who encourages Baby to do better. (Side note: It’s cool seeing that Baby learned American sign language and reading lips from Joe.) When he helps him get a job as a pizza delivery guy, Joe says to Baby, “You only have to wash your hands once after counting that money.”
Additionally, music is Baby’s direct connection with his mother who was a singer (and a waitress at the diner he frequents). Meanwhile, violence in itself is a reminder of his father who was abusive and controlling. The last memory of his parents is them arguing loudly in the car right before fatally crashing. Fortunately, Baby still has the tape with his mother singing. Until Deborah walks into his life, music is the only positive thing he has going on (their romance is really sweet BTW).
Interestingly, Baby won’t try to get Doc and the others arrested, even though he never wastes an opportunity to secretly record their conversations. Instead he uses the tapes to make remixes, like the one between Doc and Griff who thinks Baby is a weirdo: “What’s the deal with headphones over there? […] I mean, is he retarded?”
Nonetheless, that hobby mucks things up for him later…
The whole point of Griff was to work as a counterpart to Baby’s character, to show what Baby could become and to bring the warning or ‘prophetic message’ as we call it in creative writing. Griff seems to think that Baby doesn’t deserve the same cut as him since he didn’t even get out of the car. He (and later Bats too) is suspicious of his soft-looking, silent colleague and repeatedly tries to scare him. Eventually Griff tells Baby that one day he’ll get his hands bloody: “You can’t be in crime without being a little criminal.”
Personally I think it was a shame that Griff didn’t last beyond that scene in the elevator. He displayed such exaggerated machismo and that stuff just makes me laugh. Bats replaced him in way; they were very much alike. Having two of them could have given Baby even more trouble, which makes for a good story.
As said, the music serves as a barrier between Baby and his less-than-friendly partners. He stays mentally focused on whatever song is playing, bouncing in the seat as though a fight for life-or-death isn’t happening a few yards away. He looks away when Griff fires his shotgun at the ceiling. During another heist, he blocks the audience’s view when Bats and the other two gunmen go after a guard by driving the car slightly forward. He bobs his head to “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned while the commotion happens in the background. We get to see some of Baby’s horror when he catches sight of the guard, now dead and bleeding out on the pavement. I say ‘some’ because he’s wearing his dark shades.
We’re shown again and again that Baby isn’t a heartless criminal: He prevents Bats from killing someone, he goes out of his way to get Joe out of danger and – one of the two most important turning-points, if you ask me – he saves a woman he doesn’t know. During the third job in the movie (the first one since Baby finished paying his debt), he’s waiting outside a post office and notices the teller he spoke to only a few days ago, on her way to work. She recognizes him through the windshield and waves at him. In response, he shakes his head no; don’t go inside.
True to Griff’s warning, Baby gets blood on his hands. He’s forced to “face the music” (as Buddy grimly tells him) once it becomes clear that he can’t disappear quietly from his criminal life. He has to fight his way out of it. When he doesn’t immediately drive away from the crime scene, Bats hits Baby in the face with the barrel of his shotgun and knocks out one of the lenses on his shades. Finally we get to see the fear in Baby’s eyes, most likely the fear he’s felt for years since he became a getaway driver.
Despite that fear, he makes the decision to move forward. Literally forward into a truck, killing Bats, then fleeing on foot, both from the police and his former colleagues while the chaotic song “Focus” by Hocus Pocus blasts in his ears. From then on it’s a bumpy ride for Baby, with several twists and turns I didn’t expect, and an ending that felt real.
In the second important turning point, Baby chooses to stop running. How refreshing! I’m glad that instead of having Baby running from the law with his friend Deborah, he takes the keys out of the engine and says to her, “You don’t belong in this world.” He accepts the consequences of his actions – “faces the music” so to speak. More so, thanks to his better nature, people vouch for him during his trial.
After five years in prison, Baby… well, his real name is Miles… Miles is released on parole and meets Deborah outside the gates. She’s waiting for him by a car, ready to head west with music they love and a plan they don’t have.
If you want to listen to the songs from Baby Driver, I made a playlist.