Crash (1996)

I have been fortunate enough to have never been in a car crash. I’m thankful for that, as from everything I’ve seen, it seems like a very unpleasant experience. The possibility of death notwithstanding, having bones crushed, your body impaled, and so on doesn’t seem like a lot of fun to me. For the characters in Crash, getting into accidents is sexually gratifying. It’s a fetish to them. A very deadly fetish, but one nonetheless.

It begins when a man named James (James Spader) gets into an accident with a woman named Helen (Holly Hunter) and her husband. The husband died, Helen is mildly injured, while James has one of his legs completely shattered. James was the one who caused the accident from where I’m standing, although there’s no legal trouble for anyone, for some reason. It’s like insurance and monetary consideration doesn’t even factor in. After James is released and well enough to walk, he buys the same version of car that was wrecked in the crash (and it looked expensive to me).

Anyway, despite not initially seeming like they would get along (James did end up killing her husband, after all), they soon become more than friends. Intimate encounters pass, despite the fact that James has a significant other, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). Everyone in the film has a very open relationship with one another. Catherine doesn’t care if James has affairs, and likewise, he doesn’t care about hers. Eventually, another significant male character is introduced, Vaughan (Elias Koteas), who also ends up sexually involved with both women.

Vaughan is first met in the hospital where James and Helen were both recovering. Later, we see him reenacting the car crash that killed James Dean. He actually goes so far as to crash a couple of cars together while being inside of them — along with two other people. He befriends James, Helen and Catherine, and eventually gets them to share in his fetish for crashing cars.

That’s … about as much sense as I can make out of the story given to us in Crash. There’s no real driving force for these characters, there’s little real tension, and we’re mostly just waiting for their death. I mean, if you’re going to go around crashing cars for fun, what do you think is going to happen? That’s what I figured would happen, although there are a couple of surprises along the way, I suppose.

The term that comes to me as the best way to describe Crash is to call it “car porn,” although that has unfortunately been stolen by films that deal with shiny and expensive cars that usually show these automobiles in the best way possible. But Crash fits the “car porn” title better, as, for a lot of the time it plays, it has sex scenes taking place in a car. I can’t think of a better descriptor, and I think it’s time that a film like Crash takes this phrase back. The Fast and the Furious is not “car porn.”

Crash is certainly an odd film, although I don’t think it’s really worth a watch. It has long stretches where little happens, when events do occur, they often repeat, and none of these characters are particularly memorable or deep. You have to appreciate that David Cronenberg would have the guts to film this and put it out for audiences to see in a theater, but it’s not a particularly good film when you get past the shock and awe of such a film being released.

You also need to give credit to the actors, who all go all-out in their roles. None of them are afraid of doing whatever it takes for the film, whether that means baring all, being in very uncomfortable positions, or what have you. Their characters may not be particularly deep, but the actors are engaging just because of how willing they are to do what their roles require.

The story doesn’t give them a ton to work with, though, as apart from putting them in a bunch of sex scenes, there’s nothing for them to do. The characters are almost always doing one of two things: Driving or having sex — sometimes these two situations occur at the same time. That’s about all they do, and it’s hard to propel a plot forward when that’s all the characters do. They also occasionally sit around and talk, but that happens very infrequently, and when it does, it doesn’t help tell an engaging story.

This is also primarily a character drama, and without a plot, a lot rests on these characters. Apart from their irregular fetish, nothing about these people is interesting. Okay, so they’re aroused by car crashes, but is there anything else to keep us interested in them? The answer is an emphatic “no,” which is too bad because if Crash had interesting characters, it might have still been a success.

Crash is interesting only because of its subject matter. After you get past that, there’s little to keep you engaged and I ended up becoming bored thanks to the lack of a real story and the poorly developed characters. There needs to be something to keep the audience watching your film, and Crash didn’t have anything. It might be a controversial film thanks to the sex scenes, and the car crashes feel more real than many other films, but Crash isn’t worth your time, unless you want to see a film that fully embodies the term “car porn.”

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