the novel by
James Spader (James Ballard)
Holly Hunter (Helen Remington)
Deborah Kara Unger (Catherine)
Elias Koteas (Vaughan)
Rosanna Arquette (Gabrielle)
Peter MacNeill (Colin Seagrave)
mpaa rating: NC-17
release: March 21,
availability: VHS -
reviewed on this website:
history of violence
- an analysis of the blockbuster-friendly,
R-rated video version of crash
Most reviewers (even those
who admire it) have recoiled from Crash, and that's understandable.
Wall-to-wall with frigid sex, this is not the sort of movie you'd
take home to meet your mom. Nor is it a dirty, guilty pleasure,
unless you share the characters' erotic fixation on collisions,
scars, and fractures. Even open-minded viewers prepared to like
David Cronenberg's new experiment may lose patience with its
plot, or lack thereof.
Cronenberg, best known for
The Fly and Dead Ringers, has an arctic and antiseptic
approach to his art; he likes to dissect and study the human
body and psyche. Crash unites the Canadian director's
recurring themes of mutating flesh and delusional mind, with
a side order of techno-fetishism drawn from J.G. Ballard's obsessive
and difficult 1973 novel.
Ballard's story has a pornographic simplicity with unexpected
philosophical complexity. The protagonist, called James Ballard
(James Spader), engages in jaded sex games with his wife Catherine
(Deborah Kara Unger), who, in the first scene, rubs her breast
against the cold steel of an airplane during a clinch with her
flight instructor. Ballard has his own flings, and the couple
swap sex stories in what passes for intimacy.
These, we understand, are numb
automatons who push themselves into transgression so as to feel
something -- the fleeting illusion of sensation. Cronenberg's
camera stares at the sex dispassionately, as if through a microscope;
this is not destined to be a Friday-night video for lonely
guys. The film's first real sex scene is a collision: Ballard,
distracted while driving one rainy night, rams head-on into another
The other driver is killed; his wife and passenger, Dr. Helen
Remington (Holly Hunter), locks eyes with Ballard through the
smashed windshields. Before long, they're having anguished sex
in a car in an airport garage. Helen introduces Ballard to the
scarred Vaughan (Elias Koteas), who re-enacts celebrity car crashes
and insists on the connection between collision and copulation.
Vaughan draws Ballard into a philosophy in which crash-induced
wounds become a new form of sexual flesh.
J.G. Ballard's idea was to take the eroticized subtext of cars
(think of the bikinied blondes posing atop Ferraris, the high-school
fumblings in back seats) to a Swiftian extreme. Cronenberg latches
onto the visceral aspect while maintaining a cerebral distance.
His view, I believe, is that Vaughan and the others with physical
and psychic scars have built an elaborate belief system as a
defense mechanism. Where we see mangled flesh and splintered
bones, they see beauty. They must.
Why make a movie about this? How could anyone enjoy it? Well,
I did. To me, there is pleasure in visiting an inner landscape
totally alien to me. Crash is a mutant work of art --
a bracing splash of ice water. Numbingly repetitive on first
viewing, it demands a second look to uncover the subtle exchanges
in those strenuously unsexy sex scenes. It's a minor masterpiece
of a very specialized and ornery kind: It lures us with sex and
car crashes, then delivers a muted essay on dehumanization. Or,
as Cronenberg once said: "I love to disappoint people."