Freudian Formula One: ‘Baby Driver’ and Mommy Issues

What has been seen cannot be unseen: the summer blockbuster Oedipal Complex and why Freud would have enjoyed Baby Driver more than you.
By  · Published on July 8th, 2017
By Ciara Wardlow and Meg Shields

What has been seen cannot be unseen. 

We enjoyed Baby Driver. You probably enjoyed Baby Driver. But do you know who would have absolutely loved Baby Driver?

Sigmund Freud.

In case you managed to escape having to deal with this concept in school via either Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex or Freud’s more or less everything, an Oedipal complex, at its most basic, is the idea that sons subconsciously want to bonk their moms and compete with/kill their dads for their mom’s affection.

Maybe you noticed Baby’s Oedipal complex and reading this article is your victory lap, or maybe you’re not quite buying what we’re selling…yet. Either way, let’s lay out our evidence. Hope you’re boned up on your Freud. Phrasing intended.

Most explicitly, there’s the way Baby love-at-first-sights a woman who a) physically resembles his mom; b) sings like his mom; c) works at the same diner as his mom, which with its 50s-nostalgia vibe, means she’s probably d) wearing the same uniform as his mom.

We’re not experts, but this smells like some textbook wannabe motherfuckery. More specifically it stinks of Freud’s “Universal Tendency to Debasement” wherein he suggests that male affection for mom-reminiscent people is part of a “healthy” psychology: “that anyone who is to be really free and happy in love must…have come to terms with the idea of incest with his mother.” First: ew. Second: has there been a more triumphant vision of this than newly-unincarcerated Baby literally riding into the sunset with his mom-alike girlfriend? We think not!

There is clear evidence from flashbacks that Baby idolized his mom (soft, crooning, glossy) and wasn’t crazy about his dad (harsh, threatening, violent). She’s young. She’s sweet. She’s played by Sky Ferreira, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Lily James’ beautiful, blonde, 20-something Debora. It’s a similarity that, as the flashbacks become more and more detailed, becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Like a fart in an elevator. Meanwhile, Baby’s dad is a malevolent, unpredictable presence, specifically towards Ferreira. We’re shown how this hostility made the car crash possible; how Baby at best recalls his father coolly, possibly with some lingering fear and almost certainly resentment for his role in his mother’s death.  

So what? You might be thinking. Harry Potter totally had an obsession with Ginny’s Lily Evans-esque red hair, but those books are well-regarded pillars of our childhood. In fact, the trope of mom/girlfriend parallels is somewhat uncomfortably popular, but in the case of Baby Driver, we’re dealing with infomercial-like levels of Freudian shenanigans. Or, in the immortal words of the late, great Billy Mays: But wait, there’s more!

So now that we’ve laid out the basics for mommy dearest, let’s talk a little bit more about dear old dad. Because Baby has two and a half dads: scary, shouty biological dad; lovable deaf, wheelchair-bound foster dad; and weirdly paternal dad-age Jon 

Hamm as “Buddy,” who Jamie Foxx’s “Bats” refers to mockingly as “dad.”

A-ha! you nay-sayers might interject, Baby shows no animosity towards his foster dad! True, but we’ve yet to elaborate on the terms and conditions of Oedipal complexes. If you are even vaguely familiar with Freud, you know that most everything is about sex. And dicks. But mostly dicks. According to Freud, the unconscious fear and jealousy of the father that serves as the root of the patricidal part of Oedipal complexes are castration anxiety. Long story short, boys are scared that their fathers will sniff out their mom-crushes with their incest-attuned Spidey-senses (or something, Freud doesn’t explain this part all too well) and castrate them. Ergo, for the whole Oedipal complex thing to work, the dad figure must be threatening. And you know who is the least threatening character in all of Baby Driver?

Baby’s foster dad.

No threat to genitalia = no Oedipal complex required. Nifty, right? And Baby’s bio-dad is deader than that fish your parents told you “ran away” when you were five, so any patricidal intentions there would be redundant. Which brings us to Jon Hamm’s Buddy-dad, who goes out of his way to bond with Baby (I love music too son, pass me an earbud!) and defends him in multiple scenes with serious paternal vibes. At least, until Darling gets gunned down and he goes on an avenge-the-woman murder-quest™. At which point he threatens to kill Debora, the societally-acceptable receptacle for Baby’s displaced mother-lust, and ultimately dies the most classic of supervillain deaths (falling backwards from a great height) at the end of a showdown with Baby, because nobody puts Baby and his lady love/mom replacement in a corner (we’re sorry, but we had to go there). Why are you making this weird? You might be thinking, please stop. To which we say, don’t blame us, blame Freud. Dude makes everything weird.

Now, we’ve gone through Baby’s two and a half dads but hold onto your butts, folks, because we’re not done yet. Freud’s ghost would never forgive us if we wrapped up this article without talking about Jamie Foxx’s Bats. Bats’ character may not have given off any fatherly vibes, but in the context of Baby Driver, he does give off several, shall we say, dad-adjacent vibes. What do we mean by that? Well, that he’s consistently and exclusively portrayed as a volatile, threatening figure, just like Baby’s biological dad. That, and he’s the only black male character of any significance in Baby Driver that’s not Baby’s foster dad. And unlike Baby’s foster dad or bio-dad, he is not crippled or dead. (At least, at the start of the film).

Bats spends most of Baby Driver making extensive and gleeful use of America’s favorite and most dangerous phallic symbol (if you need convincing that guns are basically dicks, we’d recommend this great service known as “Google”). It’s only once he starts using his symbolic dick to threaten Debora, Baby’s girlfriend/replacement mom, and that one bank teller lady who gives off mom vibes the way the sun gives off light that Baby goes berserk and impales Bats on a giant pole. And yes, we realize that this last phrase sounds like it came from poorly written erotica. That’s the point. In a cinema in the sky somewhere the spirit of Sigmund Freud is watching that scene on repeat and crying happy tears while smoking a dick. Sorry: cigar, whatever.

If we may, we’d like to take a brief interlude from all the dicks to take stock of how Baby Driver handles its female characters. Surely these ladies aren’t completely ruled by dicks and will offer us some refuge. Sadly, predictably, no. See, for Freud (master of all things female), without dicks of their own ladies are governed by their lack of a penis. It’s dicks all the way down people we warned you! And wouldn’t you know it the women in Baby Driver are similarly skewed towards this Freudian dick-bias; serving primarily to motivate and define the dudes/phalli around them (“no dick, no narrative agency!” shrieks Freud’s ghost).

There’s Darling, who like many a badass action lady before her is gunned down; too domineering, too violent, and too assertive to make the cut as a mom-contender (Bats snidely calls her Baby’s mommy as part of a mean rhetorical joke). Instead, her death launches Buddy into his third-act-mandated curveball vendetta. More notably there’s Debora, who has little to do other than reinforcing that Baby is a Good Boy and motivate his quest to head west on 20 and never look back. And of course be a libidinal surrogate for mama Baby Driver. In her evisceration of Garden State, Jennifer Quist suggests that “maybe an Oedipus Complex is what we really mean when we rant about Manic Pixie Dream Girls.” Cue Freud: vuvuzela-ing in the bleachers.

Baby Driver is just playing with American heist movie tropes, you say. Maybe that explains why the movie didn’t bat an eye at Baby falling head over heels for a spitting image of his mom, you say. Well, okay so at best, that unfairly paints Wright as a kind of gleeful child repeating a swear word. Or hell, just wanting to fuck with people. At worst, that defense implies that wanting to fuck yer mom has become normalized in American action films and that’s a whole other can of Freudian worms…a phrase no one really wanted to write or read.

But there it is: in addition to being a heist-car-chase-musical Baby Driver is also the perfect vehicle for pro-Oedipal subtext. A real Freudian Formula One. Smuggled (rather explicitly and without indictment!) into the narrative framework of the Summer blockbuster to the tune of a solid $39.1 million opening week, exceeding expectations. Turns out Freud sells these days. Who knew?  

Again: We all loved Baby Driver. But maybe Baby loved his mom a little too much.

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