242 The Self-Reliant Baby Driver (Spoiler Alert!) – Where is American Literature Now?

Amelia Berube


Edgar Wright is well known for his ground-breaking work in filmography. With his newest film, not only did he break further untapped ground, but he broke straight into some good ‘ol American idealism. Specifically, in his newest film, Baby Driver, Wright makes connections to the themes expressed in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” You heard me. Wright draws off the same ideals Emerson highlights in his essay.

Let’s start with Emerson’s views. The text stresses exactly what the title proclaims: self-reliance. The idea of relying on oneself is indeed a noble one. Yet, there are further implications to Emerson’s ideal type of reliance. In laying his groundwork, Emerson does mention that “[a] man should learn to detect and watch the gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages” (1). In plain English, this means that a man should trust himself. He should not blindly follow the ideologies of others. The saying “to thine own self be true” comes to mind. Emerson requires that every man follow his own path, his own north star “more than the lustre of the firmament of the bards and sages.”

For Baby, the main character of Baby Driver, this statement rings true. While working for a crime syndicate as a get-away driver, there are several instances where we see his self-reliant nature. While driving away from the robbery of an armored truck, a civilian gets involved and tries to chase down the thieves. During the car chase, one of the criminals being driven, Bats, has a clear chance to shoot at the civilian. Before he can, Baby cuts the wheel and drives the crew to safety. After, Bats confronts Baby to ask if he did this to save the man who was chasing them. When Baby doesn’t answer directly, Bats replies “The moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet” (Wright). This scene shows a dynamic difference between Baby and the criminals he drives for. Every other criminal in this crime ring has no problem killing others to get what they want: money. Yet Baby purposefully avoids death if he can manage it, refusing to let civilians be harmed on his watch. Even though everyone around him falls into all sorts of criminal actions, Baby keeps the majority of his moral principles. He refuses to kill the innocent. In this way, he is self-reliant. Regardless of what others think, he stands his ground, even while being threatened by characters like Bats. Despite the “lustre” of the ideology that Bats and company lead, Baby finds his own path.

Emerson brings up a controversial point in his essay: the idea that the others don’t matter. More specifically, their thoughts about you don’t matter. You are your own person regardless of what others think. If you’re mean, be mean. Believe what you believe. Do not let others try to define you. However, Emerson states this in a way that is much less like a motivational poster: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think” (5). He quite literally tells the reader that the thoughts of others are not his concern. He is a man who is all about his own actions. And to be self-reliant, one must detach from the judgement of others.

In Edgar Wright’s films, the main characters often have quirks. In Baby Driver, this quirk is a huge theatrical device. It is also much talked about between the different characters. Having been in a car accident in a young age, Baby suffers from acute tinnitus, meaning there is always a low buzzing in his ears. For that and other reasons, Baby listens to music; he has a large library of tunes to choose from. It’s not occasional either, this motif continues practically every moment of the film. Baby never stops listening to music. However, the criminals that he works with are constantly alluding to this quirk being a mental issue, based on the constant immersion in his music. At one point, Bats even remarks “He’s a looney. Just like his tunes” (Wright). Regardless, there is no end to Baby’s listening. Not only does he ignore his fellow degenerates, he barely seems to notice their commentary. Even when the others get in his face, he gives them a blank stare. Baby doesn’t care about the thoughts of his companions. He is only concerned with what he must do, “not what the people think.”


While many of us in class disagreed with the blunt message Emerson was sending in “Self-Reliance,” a lot of those ideals are alive and well today. Everyone has their own code that they live by, and most don’t bother with what others think about that code. In terms of American Literature, we see this sort of thing in advertising all the time. “Be You,” and “Believe in Yourself” are motivational slogans we print on practically everything today. We also see it in all sorts of texts, like Baby Driver. America is full to bursting with ideas of being self-reliant and being yourself in all circumstances. At the end of it all, America still promotes many of the ideologies within Self-Reliance.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Amelia Berube is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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