Review: Crash (1996)

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One of the best films ever made, also one of the most controversial!

Written By: David Cronenberg
Directed By: David Cronenberg

To put it mildly, Crash is a movie that you can either accept or you can’t. You are either able to see beyond the trappings presented on the outside, or all you see is the outside. I’m not going to say that you either get it or you don’t, because that would be wrong. However, Crash is a film that has been polarizing since it was screened for the first time. With that comes a certain idea of what the film is, and all I can say is that the people who take the negative view on Crash are selling the creative mind of David Cronenberg criminally short.

If you heard that Crash is all about sex and car crashes, then you heard correctly, but you also heard wrong. The sex and the car crashes are windows into the true story that Cronenberg wants to tell. The ideas he wants to examine are laid out for the viewer through the sex and car crashes. To look at the sex and see only sex, or to look at the car crashes and see only car crashes is to deny what is under the surface of the entire film.

What is under the surface you ask, emotion and what it means to us is the simplest answer. That’s the problem with this review, I’m doing my best to keep this review and not be long winded. Crash doesn’t make that easy, it is a complex and thought provoking film, the type that I could write about for paragraph after paragraph. I am fighting the impulse to break the film down in a massively thorough style, but at the same time I hope that by holding myself back I’m not giving the movie the short end of the stick.

Okay, that slight case of being sidetracked is behind me, let’s get back to the point at hand. Crash is about emotion, the emotion that we experience in our everyday lives. Sex is nothing but heightened emotion, and on that note so are violent acts, death, and so on. Sex is a deeply emotional and personal act, but that doesn’t mean it is an act that is individualistic. We get a charge out of sex because it involves more than just ourselves, the same is true of violence. There is an animal power in both, an animal power driven by the emotions and the people present. Crash asks a few simple questions, where do we draw the line on acceptability and should there be any line?

Cronenberg directs Crash so that it is dripping with sex. What he does with atmosphere is brilliant. There are moments when the movie isn’t sexual in any way, but he has so ingrained sex into the atmosphere that the audience begins to ascribe sexual connotations to every moment of the film. If, as we try to tell ourselves on a daily basis, sex doesn’t dominate our lives then why do we so easily view non-sexual scenes as sexual?

The camera also fluctuates, at times Cronenberg lets the camera play the role of an observant stalker. At other times he unleashes the camera like a predator on the hunt. The camera ends up leering and slinking about just as much as it is on its hind legs ready to strike. This creates an interesting quandary for the viewer. We are left without steady footing, Cronenberg is constantly jostling us around, never giving the viewer a moment to think they are safe and actually understand what is going on or what will happen next.

Fighting the urge to go more in-depth with my analysis is very hard, to counter that impulse I’m going to try and touch on a few more things and then call it a day.

There is a connection between sex, cars and violence. In real life this connection rarely, if ever, happens at the same time. There are people who jones for sex, violence, violent sex, cars, violent car crashes or sex in a car. Crash is very real in some aspects, but it doesn’t concern itself with staying real or honest. Cronenberg isn’t interested in exploring what real connections may exist between sex, violence and cars. Rather, he is interested in exploring what those three say about humanity when they are heightened to the next stage in their evolution.

The last thing I’d like to touch on is the acting in Crash. It would be very easy to watch Crash and come away thinking that the cast doesn’t bother to do much. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and I dare say that I have seen very few performances that match that of Elias Koteas as Vaughn. He is a haunted man, but he’s an intelligent man, a man who can’t be figured out and doesn’t stop to allow the audience to understand him at all.

Koteas may be the highlight acting wise, but the rest of the cast delivers as well. Deborah Kara Unger is icy cool, monotone at every second, but her brain is always working. She isn’t dull, she functions on a higher level, dissecting all her experiences beneath her stoic exterior. Holly Hunter is the true thrill seeker of the bunch, always looking for her next fix, the where and the how doesn’t matter, her character trembles in anticipation of the next “act.” James Spader is aloof, and maybe that is just the character Spader plays in every role, but it fits perfectly in Crash. Lastly there is Rosanna Arquette’s Gabriella, who enjoys her handicap. She views it a badge of honor and as an exhilarating way to explore more of her sexuality. I’m not saying for a second that you have to like any of their characters, but the performances behind those characters leave a lot to like.

That’s as far as I am willing to go with Crash. I could go much, much further, but this is a blog, not a textbook. Suffice to say Crash is the apex of Cronenberg’s earlier work, his desire to explore sexuality, violence and the humanity behind it all. His work following Crash would stay with these themes, but he added more dominant themes to the mix. If you have stayed away from Crash, don’t fear it. It is a provocative movie, but it’s also one that makes you think and enjoy film for the medium that it is. It’s Cronenberg, that’s all I should need to tell you.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Review: Crash (1996)

  1. It’s a beautiful movie, very poetic in its darkness. I’m pleased to see that there are others who “get it”, not only the crowd of country yokels who obviously have no idea what the movie is about. Great review, thanks!

  2. I was disappointed to see you cut your review short. I realize that prefer to offer brief reviews to attract readers who may not wish to spend more than 2 minutes on the same page, but I was intrigued with what you had to say. Crash is the one Cronenberg film I didn’t really like, but you consider it to be great. Write your damn thesis!

  3. I too wish you had progressed with your review and had further disected the film. “Crash” is a movie I have appreciated for a long time and am always intrigued by the various “takes” on the meaning of the work. My only complaint is that I felt you really sold James Spader’s acting short. He does not always play “aloof” characters although that is part of his trademark.

  4. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  5. Desi – There is a chance that some people simply didn’t like the movie. Sure, I enjoyed the film on a deep level, but for some people they simply did not get anything out of it, and I’m okay with that.

    Edgar – Maybe one day I will, maybe one day.

    Coast – I have yet to see him in any role where he wasn’t aloof. Maybe they are out there, and maybe one day I will see them, but I haven’t so far.
    .

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