Sunday, April 19, 2009

Crash (1996)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Crash is a David Cronenberg film adaptation of a novel about car crash fetishism. It's also the second of these "alternative lifestyle" film studies I've seen recently with James Spader in a starring role (which kind of makes you wonder about him XD). It's a very serious, yet not really approving, exploration of the psychopathology of this subculture. And while the actual occurrence of the sexual fetish in the population may be relatively rare, the concept also works as a metaphor for a less extreme interest and idolization of cars and mechanical technology in general - and the risks such idolization poses.

The film begins with our lead being involved in a serious car accident. As he recovers - physically, and psychologically - he's introduced to a group of people who are really into getting off on twisted steel and disfiguring scars, and finds himself fitting in with them rather well. As the leader of the group explains, they derive their sexual satisfaction from the pure energy and excitement involved in a car crash. And aside from the sexual aspect, it's not hard to agree that, in addition to the horror, there's a certain excitement and fascination involved with accidents of that sort. These guys just take that feeling to the extreme.

There's not really any major conflict for this group. It's not like they get into any (serious) arguments with mainstream society, and nobody really seems to stop them from getting at what it is they seek (I'm surprised nobody complained when they drove up to that highway accident and just started walking around, taking pictures, and whatnot). So towards the end of the film, I was starting to wonder what the point was. Are we supposed to learn something from this tale, or just marvel (or grimace) at these people's deviance? But there's a line in the final scene that drove the point home for me.

Spoiler warning!

There's a harrowing car flip, and I'm thinking the guy's gonna find the girl dead, and then realize just how dangerous these activities are. The girl's alive, and I'm thinking ok, relief, it's not gonna be a tragedy ending, after all. But then, as the lead couple are making out among the wreckage, the guy asks the girl if she's alright. She says yeah, "I think I'm alright", and then sheds a tear, as the guy says, "maybe the next one." Turns out death wouldn't have been such a tragedy for them, after all...

And that's when I realized, the point is that this lifestyle is extremely self-destructive. These people get high off of destroying cars and damaging people - even to the point that death becomes the ultimate gratification, something to aspire towards. And when you extrapolate that back to the metaphor interpretation, you can see a point being made that our fetishism of high speed car culture, and our love of technology taken too far, can be a dangerous and self-destructive impulse. So in a sense, it's a cautionary tale.

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