Crash (1996)

James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger,
Crash is a movie starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, and Elias Koteas. After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and...
  • 6.4 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • J.G. Ballard, Writer:
  • David Cronenberg, Director:
  • Producer:
7 / 10

An anti-erotic exploration of the hollowness of modern life

Crash is a very sexually explicit film, but if you buy or rent this movie expecting it to be an evening's erotic entertainment, you are going to be disappointed, because it is also an anti-erotic film.

Even in the midst of frenzied lovemaking, the characters remain distant, their voices quiet and abstracted, their gazes directed inward. These are people who have been told all their lives by their culture, by TV and movies, that sex is, on the one hand, the most perfect form of communion and connection with another human being; and, on the other hand, that it is the ultimate in transcendent and transformative experiences. Instead, they discover to their horror that even during sex they still feel nothing. They crave connection, they are starved for a glimpse of transcendence, but no matter what they do, no matter who they do it with or how often, while their bodies may feel passion, their minds and hearts remain cold and empty.

In the more recent movie Pleasantville, the Jennifer/Mary Sue character is unable to feel anything either, and remains stubbornly black and white no matter how much sex she has, until her brother suggests that "maybe it isn't the sex" that is the key to moving from black and white to color, from passionlessness to feeling. Unfortunately, in Crash, there is no one to suggest to David and Catherine Ballard that maybe it isn't through sex that they will find the transformation and connection they are craving. So they instead seek more and more extreme forms of sexual stimulation, only to be disappointed again and again.

James is hurt in a car crash, and during his stay in the hospital he meets Helen (who was in the other car) and later Vaughan, a man who like James and Catherine is in desperate search of feeling, only he looks for it in the violence of car crashes. With Helen, at first James, then Catherine too is drawn into Vaughan's world, where sex and death (eros and thanatos for you Freudians) meet in the twisted metal of wrecked cars and the mutilated bodies of the victims of fatal car crashes and the survivors of near-fatal ones.

They attend staged recreations of famous car crashes, like the one that killed James Dean. They have sex in crashed cars, and start touring crash sites on the freeway as a form of foreplay. They begin to watch films of crash tests and fatal race accidents like other people would watch erotic films, and to have sex with people whose bodies have been mutilated by car crashes.

But not even the horror of mutilation or the adrenaline rush of near-death experience can lend James and Catherine's desperate coupling the depth of feeling that they so desperately crave.

Like all the people who buy expensive automobiles to give them a feeling of power and independence, only to discover that no matter how snazzy their car is, they still feel powerless and unhappy, James and Catherine have bought into one of our culture's Big Lies, that sex is the answer. This film shows us that it is not.

8 / 10

What a bunch of weirdo's! Awesome movie!

Crash caused a huge stir in the United Kingdom. Many conservatives were outraged by the combination of sex, already an issue of danger because of aids, and traffic accidents. Dangerous driving is like smoking, a subject that you just can't touch without many moral watchdogs chasing you through a hellish puritan junkyard.

I remember seeing this and a middle aged to elderly man in the theater began to quite obviously...ahem...trouser cough. This was one hell of a way to clear the cinema! That moment is pretty much like this film. Crash has weird sex and masterbation, stuff that you do not really want to see. But David Cronenberg with the help of James Ballard drags us into a world that just takes the whole 'I love cars' boy racer thing way too far! It is just not healthy...

Ballard writes in a bleak monotone. A monotone that Chuck Palahniuk seeks to imitate unsuccessfully. All of his characters are alien because of their lack of emotion. Cronenberg takes this aspect and runs with it. This makes the film good not because of the familiarity and sympathy that the viewer can build with the characters. It is actually quite the opposite, the film strikes the viewer because of the sheer UNREALITY of what is happening. The complete and utter icy way that everything is presented just leaves the viewer going 'what?' Am I watching a bunch of jellyfish here? The characters are so jaded. Trying desperately to experience emotion in an industrialized emotionless world. A world that has become nothing more than a production line. Good Ford! Sorry, Huxley joke. Nerdy but necessary.

Also, Cronenberg is presenting a discourse that the famous intellectual Donna Haraway puts forward. That basically the human race has become cyborgs. The the human form is constantly changing. That machines are changing our humanity and crash seems to say that our own sexuality can mingle with the mundane machines that we hold so dear. Oh no! I am getting flashbacks of the crazed artist Stellarc...no...no...no! Besides I bet in the future, terminators would make much more money as sexual partners, rather than as assassins. Imagine that, a beautiful spouse who always thinks your right and never argues with you. I LOVE THE FUTURE!

Sex is considered to be the ultimate joining of two people. The most intimate way that human beings can connect to one another. Wrong! This film suggests that sex means...well, nothing really. Procreation and a simple physical reaction. This is shown by James Spader and his wife's, Deborah Unger, relationship. These two are so jaded they tell each other their sexual adventures for attempted excitement but feel absolutely nothing. Certainly not some sought of emotional closeness to one another.

This film is just so incredibly empty. But it is also a comment on the human condition. How we make almost suicidal attempts to attain pleasure. If this was a film about heroin for instance, about junkies, this film would be much more understandable. Ballard has taken this addictive, self destructive behaviour and replaced it with an everyday object. The motor car. It is a brilliantly simple idea! But look at how many people it has horrified and offended! C'mon people, are we really this stupid? Sex and drugs, sex and violence. Sex, drugs and violence. These things are all o.k. Portrayed constantly in Hollywood movies. Van Diesel anybody? But sex and car accidents, how dare you? What kind of a sick freak are you??!! Consider how hypocritical this is when you watch something like Fast and the Furious.

This is also a film that features the psychological nature of fetish heavily. Instead of having the common fetish for breasts or bottoms, which again people might find more understandable. The fetish is actually for wounds and crash test dummy videos! That scene with Rosanna Arquette, ewww! Would that work? This is definitely something that no one should try at home.

David Cronenberg really deserves credit for making this film. He really has some big balls and respects the intelligence of the audience, which I however do not. All of the actors deserve much credit for taking on some truly difficult material. They must really trust the director. I'm surprised no one said 'no David, you are out to lunch on this one!' This film could have become a parody so easily. Never have I seen a film where everyone in the audience seemed so uncomfortable with the material. In fact, when I saw this film without the trouser coughing, people still walked out. It hasn't been since Salo that I have see a movie upset so many people. I give this 8 out of 10 for sheer weirdness. A great moment in a major auteur's career who is not afraid to take risks. Hollywood take note!

7 / 10

A daring film that didn't quite work

"Crash" had a lot of potential. I feel like I can criticize it harshly because I am a Cronenberg fan and this was nowhere close to his best work. The themes (sexual "deviance," violence, obsession) that Cronenberg was exploring are very relevant to today's post-modern society. However, this film didn't get the message across. Supposedly the book by James Ballard deals more with our obsession with fame and celebrities; that was not dealt with in the film and it should have been. It would have resulted in a more coherent piece of art. As you watch the movie, you feel like a kid watching late-night TV and stumbling upon something "dirty" that you know you aren't supposed to see. That's about it. As an adult, you know that there is supposed to be symbolism, an underlying metaphor or allegory, but the viewer is never really let in on the secret. Instead, we see a lot of strange sex scenes, car crashes and empty dialogue. I wanted to like this film, but it was boring, a little pretentious, and left me wanting more substance.

4 out of 10

8 / 10

The Orgasm of Burning Rubber.

"How many orgasms per mile can you get ?" This is one of the catching tag lines of the movie "Crash". Again Cronenberg delivers a dive into human psychic, the world of dark obsession, and twisted fantasy's.

The plot:

A sexually frustrated couple starts experimenting with the outlines of anonymous sex. It is the husband James Ballard (James Spader) who gets into a car crash with Dr. Ellen Remington (Holly Hunter) and her husband. They crash frontally and both Ballard and Remington are seriously injured. Remington's husband dies while being launched from his seat through his own windshield into Ballards. Ballard ends up in the hospital, traumatized, trying to recover from his injuries. He gets into deeper contact with Helen Remington. Their mutual Crash-victim status brings them closer together, ultimately delivering them into the sump-oil-soaked world of the pathological Vaughan (Elias Koteas). Renegade scientist and leader of a strange subterranean group, Vaughan is only able to achieve sexual release by crashing into people on the motorways surrounding Heathrow airport. Getting sucked into his world, Ballard becomes obsessed with car crashes, and dives into the illegal world of "thrill seeking" and raw and hard (but mostly cold) sex.

The review:

To be quiet honest "Crash" is a very underestimated picture. First of all there are a serious amount of people who thought that the subject was laughable, and not to be taken serious, for how could you take something like this serious ?

After crashing your car and being injured, having sex with the victim of a car-crash ?

Apart from the post-traumatic stress that can appear after such an incident it also triggers a lot of adrenaline, which is almost a self produced drug. Cronenberg cuts a subject which is still very much of a taboo, the "thrill seeking taboo". You got a lot of so called thrill seekers now these days, which can result into ghost riding on the freeway, climbing on buildings without security etc. All in all the thrill seek element isn't that original.

This is where Cronenberg has looked for a thrill that rushes into a perverse sexual outburst. After the shock of crashing into a car, the adrenaline, the rush of the experience becomes so real, you feel so alive that you need to let it all out, which comes into the act of "making love". Cronenberg is trying to paint the audience a picture of an event like this.

Based on J.G. Ballards novel "Crash" which was quiet detached and cold, the director follows in style with the dark freeways of Canada, showing that even in your car you are not always save, and how a car can become the ultimate "drive" for pleasure. The problem with this film (like many others) is that it is so far out there that you either hate it or love it. The pacing is rather slow in the beginning and its hard to get into, if you don't understand the psychology that lies underneath the dialog. The movie has a solid script but the subject and material is not accessible for everybody. James Spader who often (he almost could be a stereotype) plays sexual frustrated protagonists ("Sex,Lies,and Videotapes", "Secretary", "Speaking of Sex") delivers a terrific performance here. His distant and alienated acting fits perfectly into the dark en and sensual story, and doesn't come as a insincere or "over the top". Some people felt that Koteas and Hunter performances where a little flat, but they have just the balance between low key and an over the top performance (Koteas more than Hunter). You got to keep in mind that these people are already deranged from the beginning. What you see is simply a drop falling into bucket that is overflowing.

The use of light and shadow is very subtle and excellently done by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. He really knows how to pull you into a certain world, that LOOKS like ours but feels very different. In any case I can recommend the movie if you want to watch something different. A lot of people will not understand the weight this film carries, and therefore this movie will be underrated, or simply will be put aside as boring or unrealistic. THIS IS A MISTAKE,... don't put it away, watch it, and feel the awkwardness. The result ?

"Humans really are quiet weird creatures..."

9 / 10

dangerously erotic work that changes years after seeing it

David Cronenberg's Crash was one of those "dirty" movies I more than likely wasn't supposed to rent let alone watch when the NC-17 cut first came into existence on video (and, if anything, the film was more than an eye-opener in my young teen state, going even further than I had seen at the time with Boogie Nights or Kids). But I didn't pay quite as much attention to the story as I should've, aside from the James Dean subplot (as I remembered it anyway, with Elias Koteas's character), and from the very dark atmosphere. It was almost TOO dark at the time, and I stayed away until recently when it was shown on TV late one night. Seeing it now I'm much more absorbed into the wretchedly but totally, sensually charged work by the actors and the crew, and Cronenberg's utmost trust and professionalism with both. It certainly has that effect on a first viewing of veering way too close into the soft-core boundaries, and even seems like the kind of thing that I used to see in that 'scandalous' section of mainstream adult films as a kid like Last Tango in Paris. But the psychology behind the characters ends up being more striking than anything, and like many of Cronenberg's films, the duality of man (and woman, apparently) comes strongly into play, and the merging of the two as usually becomes the case.

James Spader is in one of his very best performances- albeit only somewhat removed from the sexual deviants of Sex Lies & Videotape and Secretary (maybe closer to the latter, however without any of that film's outright satire)- as Ballard, also the author this film is based upon. He gets in a car accident, a horrible one, that kills a doctor and leaves his wife (Holly Hunter) injured both physically and psychologically. But Ballard and his wife (Deborah Kara Unger, very good as well) get brought into this strange world that's been built around Vaughn (Koteas, perhaps in one of his top 3 best pieces of work, very creepy but somehow convincing early on, at least to his new arrivals). He is a man who is completely enveloped into his psyche of car-crash sex, and how history ends up adding a mystique to it all (hence the James Dean references, which are very amusingly pathological). But this all becomes very dangerous, if only on some subversive level, when Ballard, his wife, and Hunter's Helen Remington get involved in this underground cult.

Seeing the film again, I'm a lot more struck this time after seeing other Cronenberg work how the style slips so amazingly into the content of the picture. The first time around, the style almost seemed to be just another side to the content, that it was obvious to have such a wild yet controlled technique, particularly for the sex &/or car crash scenes. This is as much a credit to Cronenberg's poetic touches to the material as it is to DP Peter Suschitzky and Howard Shore's music, which somehow rises above being too pornographic to being really touching. In fact, after seeing it again very late at night and not remembering the entire film, I may even need to see it again to let it all sink in. But really this won't be the case for all- the NC-17 rating isn't too unwarranted in this case, even if it's more a rating for the nature of the sexual contact and aggressiveness of the fetishism as opposed to something like the Dreamers where there was blatant nudity a lot of the time. I wouldn't dare recommend the R-rated version, however, as the whole point is to see it all in its un-tarnished view. It's a harsh vision painted here of people reaching out for some kind of connection through the most destructive way imaginable. One thing's for certain, once you've seen it there's no mistaking this from Paul Haggis's Crash (and, for me, this beats out Haggis's contrived good-intention machine any day).