From the moment we see Luke (Ryan Gosling), we like him. Is it because he makes a striking figure? He does, with his bleached blonde hair, muscles, and tattoos covering his body. He is all muscle and power, yet he's quiet and reserved, not eager for the spotlight. Is it because he's talented at driving a motorcycle? He is, and that's interesting, but he's no daredevil. The motorcycle he travels on isn't so much a vehicle to get around with as it is an extension of his body. He's not much of a talker. He communicates with the bike. He uses it to show who he is and how he's feeling. He rides the bike with two other stuntmen in a small metal cage. He slams it through the forest when he's frustrated. He's no bad boy. Not in the way that you think.
No, I think we like him and are affected by him because he's a walking wounded. We like him for the same reason we like his son 15 years later. A boy without his father is like a cat without his whiskers: blind and easily caught. An easy prey for pain. The bond and interdependence between sons and fathers is the major theme of this movie. Fathers needs their sons and sons need their fathers. Any break in that chain and you have a wound so deep, it's almost insurmountable.
Director Derek Cianfrance has written a modern Shakesperean tragedy in 3 acts.