Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)

A reoccurring description of Crash notes that it is “the film where people get off on car crashes”. Perhaps reflecting a small, yet vocal, minority, those who dismiss Crash tend to ignore (or dismiss) the film’s artistic accomplishments.  My leanings reflect my admiration for what Mr. Cronenberg achieved, what he failed to achieve, and what he doesn’t do. Even with that in mind, I can understand where resistance to the film comes from – though it’s ignorant to dismiss Crash with the aforementioned statement.

Crash’s emphasis on sexuality, and the carnal links in which one achieves sensual satisfaction, is an idea that to most, may come across as half-baked. But Mr. Cronenberg effectively stimulates a different sense all together- he broadens the canvas of the possible by questioning the very nature of human sexuality. He treats sex, and the people who embark upon it, as animals. Perhaps resistance to the film stems from a rejection of this idea – do people want to be told that they’re animals? Certainly not, but it’s an idea that he explores as his thesis.

James Ballard (James Spader) lives in a sedated state. He goes through the monotony of work, attempting to please his sexual desires in dull and ultimately unsatisfactory ways. He ends up in a car accident, where he badly injuries a woman in the other car – her passenger, her husband, is killed. James is hospitalized and discovers that the woman, Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), is in the facility with him. It’s here where the two strike up a relationship – though it defies notions of traditional human psychology. Helen is less concerned with the death of her husband, instead so beaten by the monotony of life that she pursues a new thrill all together.

The accident that injures James and Helen provides an outlet of thrill that rivals the sexual. Perhaps combine the two? The matter-of-fact nature in which Mr. Cronenberg posits this theory is utterly compelling and logically sound within the construct of the narrative. Is mutilation, the risk of death, and the subsequent connection to sex, enough to help define people? It’s an idea that Crash plays with. This is particularly evident in the way Mr. Cronenberg treats his characters- they’re not defined by their work or accomplishments. They are dull, ultimately empty canvases, waiting for that something to happen to help them realize themselves. This speaks to how modernity, how the concept of the present, serves to produce hordes of drones who lack the self-reflective skills to question the larger social systems at hand.

Crash works best when Mr. Cronenberg establishes the rules of the road- there’s a lingering sense of exploration that is not only interesting, but unabashedly sexy as well. The film veers out of control in its final act though, as Mr. Cronenberg seeks to unite the film’s secondary characters to create a circle of sexual compulsion. It becomes a bit unnecessary, and ultimately works more for shock and less for the ideas that Mr. Cronenberg introduces from Crash’s onset.

The scale in which Crash works in is most impressive. I feared that the film would transform into something on the scale of Fight Club – i.e, a small reclusive group entering a mainstream society. The two films have quite a bit in common in terms of cult acceptance and taboo practices, though Crash is more honest with itself and the reality of the world – acceptance of unconventional sexual practices goes against the socially constructed braintrust of society. There isn’t going to be a revolution – there’s just going to be this pocket of individuals who are aware of the constructs of society and share in mutual glee when they reject them.

Rating: 6/10