Saturday 26 February 2022

Movie Review: Crash (1996)

A weird drama about sexuality fuelled by a fascination with car accidents, Crash pretends to have something important to say but fails to articulate. 

In Toronto, film producer James Ballard (James Spader) has an open marriage with Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), and they both enjoy kinky sex with each other and with strangers. James is hurt in a head-on car collision and forced to recuperate at a hospital. He is strangely aroused by the idea and reality of vehicular carnage, and is soon having car sex with Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), who was in the other car involved in the crash. 

James, Catherine, and Helen are drawn into the strange orbit of Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a man obsessed with scars and death. In front of a live audience, Vaughan theatrically recreates famous car crashes that claimed celebrity lives. His entourage also includes Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), who needs braces to support severely damaged legs. A pernicious mix of arousal, sexual coupling, dangerous driving, and road crashes irresistibly draws the group together.

In adapting the J.G. Ballard book, director and writer David Cronenberg deserves some credit for going out there and looking for something new within the dark recesses of the adult human psyche, and his cast join him for a raw journey into a bizarre world. Filmed with an aloof, cold core dominated by mechanical eroticism, highways scarring cities, and traffic dominating the landscape, Crash invents a sexual fetish and runs with it.

The problem is that beyond the shock of the premise, the story has nowhere to go. The circle forming around the whacko Vaughan is too far gone to ever pause and generate sympathy. The characters are undefined and stuck in an emotional void only satisfied by pushing deeper into the invented space where crashes, scars, and sex come together. Not surprisingly the audience is left behind, somewhere between bewildered and exasperated by the incessant coupling and the concept of crunched automobiles as aphrodisiacs.

In the absence of a traditional narrative, the large blanks can be filled with any explanation. Pick from humanity subsumed by machines, crashes as metaphors for the human imperative to come together, a symbiotic cycle of machine damage causing human scars both physical and mental, and the uncomfortably close distance between flirting with death and creating life. It's all up for grabs, but all profound attempts at psycho analysis are, at best, bent out of shape.

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