By Brandon Rucker
Masculinity encompasses both biological and learned behaviors and attitudes of men. Masculinity in film has long portrayed recurring tendencies: aggression, overuse of violence, objectification, and unhealthy emotional expression. You notice anything strange about that? Exactly, these all seem extremely negative. All these traits are associated with toxic masculinity, a subset of learned masculine behaviors. The film Baby Driver attempts to define masculinity through men both portraying toxic masculinity and portraying an opposition to it.
First, let’s look at how both Buddy and Bats are portrayed. Both could certainly be considered the villains of the film. Bats’ words and behaviors and Buddy’s later hunt for revenge Baby into conflict with Debora and Doc and endangers Joe. So, what masculine behaviors are associated with our main villains?
Bats is introduced during the second heist team meeting. He displays aggressive tendencies from this very meeting, immediately attempting to start an argument with Baby about his wearing headphones. The film clearly portrays this as an unhealthy behavior every time Bats starts arguments. Bats’ violent nature is clear in the scene where he initiates a shootout with Doc’s gun-selling cops. The audience knows Bats’ actions lead to unnecessary violence and should not be condoned.
Though scarce, Bats’ objectification is centered on one of two main characters in the film: Darling. In the first scene, they meet and in a later scene at a gas station, Bats very clearly leers at Darling’s body. It is unclear just how negatively the film means this to be viewed as the camera also leers at her body in the first of these scenes. On Bats’ emotional expression in this film, the only prominent outlet is anger. Again, it is unclear just how negatively the audience is meant to take this behavior. This is confusing, given the film’s treatment of Buddy’s vengeful rage.
Buddy is introduced as an ally of Baby in the beginning. In the first elevator scene and in a later scene after Bats insults Darling, Buddy is very possessive of her. He seems view her as only and object of his affection. This is continued in the way he uses her death as a reason to seek revenge on Baby. Buddy also shows emotion sparingly throughout the film that isn’t centered on sexuality or anger. His sexual focus is displayed during most of his scenes with Darling and his anger is shown mostly during his hunt for Baby. Buddy’s use of violence seems to go beyond simple self-defense. When Darling implies he should kill Bats, he questions it but seems willing. Similarly, in Buddy is more than willing to kill both the police officer and Doc in his attempt for retaliation against Baby.
As our protagonist, Baby is given the most screen time and character development. In all the film’s runtime and his development, Baby maintains masculinity in opposition to toxicity. Baby is regularly non-aggressive without seeming pathetic. In response to Griff’s aggression at the beginning of the film, Baby remains fairly calm. The film portrays this as a positive. Baby also actively avoids violent interactions. He doesn’t carry a gun for most of the film and only shoots Buddy in defense of himself and Debora.
Baby doesn’t seem to objectify anyone in the film. He treats other character with the necessary respect they deserve. He is caring and protects his foster father after Joe is attacked by Bats and Buddy. Baby also regularly expresses emotion in a healthy way. Baby dances to portray several types of emotion. When he is upset, he dances in the junkyard. In the scene where Baby is happy about finishing a job, he dances down the street. After meeting Debora, Baby dances in he and Joe’s apartment.
The film clearly places Baby’s version of masculinity above Bats and Buddy’s versions. Though it seems to be lacking in acknowledging some toxic behaviors, it’s choice of a non-traditionally masculine hero is compelling. Not only do Baby Driver’s style, music, and cast make it a great film, it’s intentional or unintentional presentation of masculinity is a welcome one.