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Crash (1996)

by on 2012/08/21

“Is traffic heavier now? There seem to be three times as many cars as there were before the accident.”

* * *

I remember having seen Crash, but not much more than that . . . no details or opinions, even impressions. The title itself reminded me it involved car accidents, a potential Cronenberg fetish supported by my recently seeing his Fast Company.

Based on a book by J. G. Ballard — probably best known to moviegoers as the inspiration for Empire of the Sun — the adaptation explores the connection between arousal and its triggers, some unconventional: destruction, injury, and voyeurism.

James Spader (Stargate) and Deborah Kara Unger (White Noise) star as a couple in an open relationship, each leaving the other free to pursue their proclivities. Sharing the tales of their exploits energizes their own rapport. The trouble is, they don’t yet know what those proclivities are, at least until the day James wrecks his ride.

His interest is soon enabled by various others like himself, played by Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona), Elias Koteas (Gattaca), and Rosanna Arquette (New York Stories). They’re all involved with a group restaging infamous car crashes, complete with Koteas’ narration, reminiscent of his role in Exotica.

Perhaps by design, the performances are provocative, if not evocative. Are they lost, uncertain, shocked, or insecure? Everyone projects a numb intensity, not callous or rote, but distantly curious. They take their alternate turns as feral participants or cool spectators.

I felt like a cool spectator myself in time. Could it be I’m not part of the film’s intended audience? Initial flashes of interest gave way to an acceptance and, all too soon, unfortunately boredom. The players’ triggers aren’t mine. I expected something different or more extreme. After all, the blurb on the video case assures me it’s controversial.

Instead I fell back on my usual routine, noting nitpicks between familiar landmarks. There weren’t many nitpicks, to be sure. It’s amazingly solid and streamlined. Only Koteas’ obvious stunt driver tested my tolerance.

Among the positives, we’re shown an interesting credits sequence, executed in a manner similar to, but different from, Superman. We get a strong sense of place, of space, and interesting angles from which to watch them. (Where were these qualities in the recent Naked Lunch?) We see reflections, through transparencies, and combinations of both. Everything is tied together with some very cool guitar work I wouldn’t have expected from Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings). Basically, it’s stylish overall.

My overriding impression was, “It’s Fight Club crossed with Secretary.” (Admittedly they both came several years later.) I was somewhat mystified it was met in its day by such a furor. The cinema of Italian Neorealism from the 1940s on routinely connected sex and death, old hat by 1996.

On the other hand, my reaction was fairly subdued. I recognize the validity of its subject matter and themes, so it didn’t outrage me, but it also didn’t inspire. Have we since become so jaded, or is it just me? The paraphilia becomes a given, then familiar and repetitive, compelling early on yet ultimately aimless.

Like eating too much candy, it seems tasty for a while but, eventually, gets samey, and then you —

(wait for it)

Crash.

* * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / NC17 (United States)

101 minutes (uncut version)

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