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‘Drive My Car’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’: How Intertextuality Enriches a Film

Beep beep! It’s time to talk about intertextuality!
Best Movies 2021: Drive My Car
Janus Films
By  · Published on May 11th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that takes a look at the themes and intertextuality of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car.


If you’re a casual film enjoyer, it’s possible you’ve seen the term “intertextuality” knocking about. But what does this ooky spooky academic word mean, anyway? Well don’t worry, humble reader, this is film school rejects dot com after all. As far as we’re concerned, you don’t need a fancy piece of paper to use fancy words.

As the name suggests, intertextuality describes the relationship between two texts, and more specifically the meaning that is created out of that relationship. The term was originally coined by Bulgarian-French jack of all philosophical trades Julia Kristeva. In her 1980 text Desire in Language, Kristeva describes the way in which certain meaning is filtered through a work’s relationship with other works. What a work “means” isn’t strictly contained within itself. Instead, as far as intertextuality is concerned, meaning is created by the audience/viewer/reader in relation to the work and the intricate nervous system of other works.

If your intimate knowledge of Shakespeare’s Hamlet enriches your viewing of The Lion King, that’s intertextuality. Being aware of horror novelist Stephen King while you watch demented author Sutter Kane raise hell in In the Mouth of Madness? That’s intertextuality.

But what does all this have to do with Drive My Car? Well, if you’ve had the pleasure of watching Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s 2021 Oscar Award-winning film, you can probably guess which text the film is begging you to bring into the conversation. Drive My Car follows Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a grieving artist who accepts a gig to direct a production of Uncle Vanya. Sure enough, musculature begins to form between Anton Chekhov’s play and Kafuku’s life. And as the video essay below suggests, a big part of “getting” Drive My Car is a degree of familiarity with Uncle Vanya. So hey, if the film’s three-hour runtime wasn’t enough of a barrier to entry, you also have to read up on a Russian 19th Century domestic drama. (Or you could watch this video essay):

This is your warning: the following video essay includes spoilers for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car.

Watch “Drive My Car: What is Intertextuality”:


Who made this?

This video essay on the themes and intertextuality in the movie Drive My Car is by Accented Cinema, a Canadian-based YouTube video essay series with a focus on foreign cinema. You can subscribe to Accented Cinema for bi-weekly uploads here. You can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).