What ‘Baby Driver’ Can Teach Us About Being Cool Under Pressure

Over a month after its release, Baby Driver continues to achieve accolades and box office success. An exciting heist film, Baby Driver is well cast and well-acted, but the main reason for its popularity is the appeal of Baby, the movie’s protagonist, played by Ansel Elgort. After surviving a car crash as a child, Baby suffers from tinnitus and plays music constantly to drown out the ringing in his ears. As “Doc,” the mysterious kingpin played by Kevin Spacey, says, “That’s what makes him the best.” No distractions, ice-water in the veins, Baby is the best get-away driver you could ask for. He epitomizes what it means to keep cool under pressure.

Throughout the film, Elgort’s character calmly fields rude taunts and dangerous scenarios with equanimity. He’s not ignoring the world around him; he listens. He’s not numb; he’s in touch. And yet he remains serene. Or, as Spacey’s character puts it in one of the film’s much-shared trailers, he’s “Mozart in a go-cart.”

Baby’s coolness under pressure is a virtue that happens to be a combination of two U.S. Marine Corps leadership traits—bearing and courage. Bearing is creating a favorable impression in carriage, appearance, and personal conduct at all times. Courage is the mental quality that recognizes fear of danger or criticism, but enables a person to proceed in the face of it with calmness and firmness. These two traits perfectly describe Baby’s character. He not only deals with adrenaline-pumping car chases but also the constant attempts of his nefarious co-workers to get under his skin. With the exception of Doc, the rest of the gang appears unnerved by the fact that Baby does not get unnerved. (Note to self: never work with career criminals who see stealing and murder as mundane as sending an email or eating a bagel in the break room.) Baby was brought into this criminal world against his will, but he still puts one foot in front of the other with a cool confidence while listening to one of his decorative iPods. Some of the people he works with obviously view this cool demeanor as arrogance, instead of being grateful for his skills as a getaway driver.

There’s a calmness that comes from knowing you have dependable skills. Baby is really great at driving. This is a skill he has developed over several years; he knows how to choose the right combination of songs to match the estimated length of the getaway drive. His preparation and attention to detail give him an edge in staying cool and reminds us that practice and preparation can help us deal with high pressure situations—whether final exams or a job interview. Baby also stays hyper-focused on his work; he is not overly concerned about what the rest of his gang is doing. He does not succumb to distractions, avoids idle chit-chat, minds his own business, and keeps his eye on the prize. Suffice it to say this is a lesson our distracted culture could learn from.

As the movie speeds toward its finale, viewers will fall in love with Baby’s reserve yet again. With the love of his life Debora (Lily James) by his side, Baby realizes that it’s futile to keep running and once again calmly accepts his fate. I won’t give it away, but the movie’s ending isn’t what you would expect. It was refreshing to see a film refuse to take the easy path; this movie’s hero doesn’t fight to avoid facing the consequences of his actions, but rather accepts them. Cool, collected, and not easily flustered—as Doc would say, that’s my Baby!

Image: Sony Pictures

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