David Cronenberg’s 1996 thriller Crash is a film that looks at the phenomenon of Paraphilia, the sexual arousal of people in response to objects, situations or individuals that are not part of the normative stimulation and can cause danger or harm to those involved. These can include arousal, fantasies and behaviours involving non-human objects, children, non-consenting persons and shamefully up until 1973, homosexuality. Crash looks at the idea of people who are sexually aroused by car crashes.
James Ballard (James Spader) is a film producer living in
with his wife Catherine
(Deborah Kara Unger). While driving home one night, James is involved in a head
on collision with another car which kills the driver of the car he hit. While trapped
in the wreckage, James looks across to the passenger of the other car, Dr.
Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) who suddenly exposes her breast to him. While in
hospital recovering James meets Helen again and she introduces him to Vaughn (Elias
Koteas), a man who likes taking pictures of scars and people in accidents. Helen
and James begin an affair and visit a performance put on by Vaughn in which he fetishises
the car crash which ended the life of James Dean. James becomes a man who is aroused
by car accidents and meets more people like himself through Vaughn. The rest of
the film follows the group as they search out car crashes and enjoy themselves
in various car related scenarios, often becoming involved in crashes themselves
and sometimes purposely. Toronto
Given what is in the previous paragraph it shouldn’t be too difficult to see why this film generated such considerable controversy upon its release. It is one of the strangest film’s I’ve watched and I actually thought I was sitting down to watch the 2004 Oscar winner of the same name at first. I can’t say that I liked it as the film’s focus was primarily on what the characters were doing rather than the reasons behind it. I’d loved to have seen the film delve into the psychoanalytical reasons behind the fetish but it generally stays away from that side of the story. This is a shame as psychoanalysis is a subject which Cronenberg dealt with marvellously in A Dangerous Method. Having said that, it did piss of the Daily Mail a lot which is a good thing in my book!
One of the reasons the film attracted so much controversy, aside from the fact that it is about people trying to crash cars for a sexual thrill, is the amount of sex contained within it. Just looking at the cast list which includes Holly Hunter, James Spader and Rosanna Arquette should give you some level of understanding as to the graphic sexual nature of the film but it is much more graphic than you are thinking. I’m a bit surprised that it got through the censors to be quite honest. The film begins with a woman rubbing a nipple on a car bonnet and the first three scenes all contain sex. In fact about half of the scenes in the entire film do. One in particular is shocking and involves a large scar (you can figure it out for yourself).
I think that this is a bold film which tries to look at a controversial subject but it fails to live up to the interestingness of its subject by skirting around the psyche behind it. What the film does make evident is the desire the protagonists have towards their fetish. This is not more so than when the group are watching a video of car crash safety tests. The whole group become visibly excited and their excitement swells until it is about to reach bursting point when the tape freezes. Holly Hunter’s character jumps off the sofa in a fit of rage and nearly pulls her hair out at missing out on the videos climax (as well as her own).
The film has many more negative than positive points unfortunately. The most glaring hole in the plot is that there is no police investigation after a man kills another by driving on the wrong side of the road. What is also very strange is that seconds after seeing her husband die, Holly Hunter’s character is exposing her breasts to the man who caused his death. While this can be explained by her fetish, it is still quite bizarre. During the group’s trip to visit and photograph a car crash that has just taken place, not one policeman or paramedic asks why they are there or tries to stop them. The acting is for the most part wooden and the script is clunky and robotic.
I wasn’t bored by this film but I think that is more down to me trying to understand what was going on and why than because it is a great film. I’ve read that Martin Scorsese ranked it the 8th best film of the 1990s and while I don’t want to argue with my favourite living film maker, I found it confusing and while it showed plenty of the taking part, it lacked the explanation of why.