Crash (1996)

Dir. David Cronenberg
Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Debra Kara Unger, etc.
100 minutes (NC-17 version)

Not to be confused with the 2005 film, Crash!, Martin Scorsese listed this as one of the ten best films of the 90s. There’s merit to that choice, imo. At the same time, I don’t feel like the film is entirely successful, but it’s a unique film that deserves attention.

But don’t watch the film for a conventional story or characters. I’ve read some comments about the characters’ motivation and some criticism about the realism of the film. These questions are besides the point of the film. I don’t think Cronenberg cares about the characters and their motivations or the story. I thought of the Bresson and how one writer mentioned Bresson refering to his actors as “models.” The actors are like models. This is appropriate given the subject matter of the film. More on that later.

So if the film doesn’t have a conventional story or characters, what’s this film about? The film is about one particular metaphor and takes the entire film to expand on this metaphor. The metaphor in question involves sex and cars. We’ve seen advertisers and songwriters make associations between the two. In Crash, Cronenberg takes it a step further by making it more blatant and obvious. Instead of scantifly clad women posing next to suped cars, Cronenberg gives us graphic nudity and sex scenes. Car crashes become synonomous with orgasms. This metaphor is also consistent with another theme that seems to intrest Cronenberg, namely the way machines and humans have influenced each other. Cronenberg seems to like to illustrate this by show converging machines and humans, a la a cyborg.

Perhaps that’s consistent with the way Cronenberg uses the actors in the film. The actors in the film are more like props or models that Cronenberg uses to create a cinematic poem on cars, sex and violence. By props or models, I mean I don’t see them as “real” people or characters that we should be interested in. The film is almost a feature length performance art piece. One of my favorite scenes is the car wash scene. We see the swishing skirts going over the car; the suds spewing out while the two characters have sex. I also liked the way the covertible roof frames the two characters in the back seat as it’s being put up.

Earlier I said the film wasn’t entirely successful. I feel like Cronenberg lacks the talent to make this really a great film. I feel like a really talented director could have made more powerful images and perhaps reveal more interesting insights. Still, I think it’s a very interesting film, and the best Cronenberg film I’ve seen.

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