Crash (1996 film)
Original release poster
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Screenplay by||David Cronenberg|
by J. G. Ballard
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Box office||$2 million|
Crash is a 1996 Canadian-British psychological thriller film written and directed by David Cronenberg based on J. G. Ballard's 1973 novel of the same name. It tells the story of a group of people who take sexual pleasure from car crashes, a notable form of paraphilia. The film stars James Spader, Deborah Kara Unger, Elias Koteas, Holly Hunter, and Rosanna Arquette.
The film generated considerable controversy on its release and opened to mixed and highly divergent reactions from critics. While some praised the film for its daring premise and originality, others criticized its combination of graphic sexuality with violence. Although it was nominated for the Palme d'Or (the grand prize) at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, it instead won the Special Jury Prize, which is considered the third-most prestigious prize. The film's music score was composed by Howard Shore.
Film producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), are in an open marriage. The couple engage in various infidelities, but between them have only unenthusiastic sex. Their arousal is heightened by discussing the intimate details of their extramarital sex.
While driving home from work late one night, Ballard's car collides head-on with another, killing its male passenger. While trapped in the fused wreckage, the driver, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), wife of the killed passenger, exposes a breast to Ballard when she pulls off the shoulder harness of her seat belt.
While recovering, Ballard meets Remington again, as well as a man named Vaughan, who takes a keen interest in the brace holding Ballard's shattered leg together and photographs it. While leaving the hospital, Remington and Ballard begin an affair, one primarily fueled by their shared experience of the car crash (not only do all of their sexual assignations take place in cars, all of Remington's off-screen sexual encounters take place in cars as well). In an attempt to make some sense of why they are so aroused by their car wreck, they go to see one of Vaughan's cult meetings/performance pieces, an actual recreation of the car crash that killed James Dean with authentic cars and stunt drivers. When Transport Ministry officials break up the event, Ballard flees with Remington and Vaughan.
Ballard becomes one of Vaughan's followers who fetishize car crashes, obsessively watching car safety test videos and photographing traffic collisions. Ballard drives Vaughan's Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and uses street prostitutes, and later Ballard's wife. In turn, Ballard has a dalliance with one of the other group members, Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), a beautiful woman whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces, and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, which is used as a substitute for a vagina by Ballard. The film's sexual couplings in (or involving) cars are not restricted to heterosexual experiences. While watching videos of car crashes, Remington becomes extremely aroused and gropes the crotches of both Ballard and Gabrielle, suggesting an imminent ménage à trois. Instead, Vaughan and Ballard eventually turn towards each other and have sex, while later, Gabrielle and Remington have sex with each other.
Though Vaughan claims at first that he is interested in the "reshaping of the human body by modern technology," in fact his project is to live out the philosophy that the car crash is a "fertilizing rather than a destructive event, mediating the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity that's impossible in any other form."
The film's climax begins with Vaughan's death and ends with Ballard being involved in another semi-deliberate car crash, this one involving his wife. Their fetish for car crashes has, ironically enough, had an unusual bonding effect on the Ballards' marriage. As he caresses her bruised body in the grass median near the crash, Ballard and his wife display affection for each other, ending with Ballard saying, "Maybe the next one," possibly implying that the logical end result of their extreme fetish is death.
- James Spader as James Ballard
- Deborah Kara Unger as Catherine Ballard
- Elias Koteas as Vaughan
- Holly Hunter as Dr. Helen Remington
- Rosanna Arquette as Gabrielle
- Peter MacNeill as Colin Seagrave
- Judah Katz as Salesman
- Nicky Guadagni as Tattooist
- Boyd Banks as Grip
- David Cronenberg (voice) as Auto salesman
The film was extremely controversial, as was the book because of its vivid depictions of graphic sexual acts instigated by violence.
Although passed by the British Board of Film Classification with an 18 certificate, the film was banned by Westminster Council, meaning it could not be shown in any cinema in the West End, even though they had earlier given special permission for the film's premiere (although anyone wanting to watch the film only had to walk along to the non-Westminster half of Shaftsbury Avenue − that is in the neighboring borough of Camden − to see it in a cinema there). In the United States, the film was released in both NC-17 and R versions. The ratings controversy has now subsided and the film is readily available on DVD. In Australia, a cut version rated R18+ was given a very limited release due to controversy; it was later released uncut on VHS in early 1997, and then on DVD in 2003. The American NC-17 version was branded with the tagline "The most controversial film in years".
In Italy, the film and its director were repeatedly attacked by La Repubblica film critic Irene Bignardi, while the Corriere della Sera critic Tullio Kezich wished the actors to give the Palmarès back to the jury. The movie was denounced by the Municipality of Naples and the environmental association Legambiente, but it was eventually distributed.
In his contemporary review, Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing:
[Crash is] like a porno movie made by a computer: It downloads gigabytes of information about sex, it discovers our love affair with cars, and it combines them in a mistaken algorithm. The result is challenging, courageous and original--a dissection of the mechanics of pornography. I admired it, although I cannot say I "liked" it.
In 2000, a poll done by The Village Voice of film critics listed Crash as the 35th Best Film of the 1990s, a similar poll done by Cahiers du cinéma placed it 8th and in 2005 the staff of Total Film listed it at #21 on their list of the all-time greatest films. In addition, Slant Magazine selected it as one of their "100 Essential Films".
In 2002, Parveen Adams, an academic who specializes in art/film/performance and psychoanalysis argues that the flat texture of the movie, achieved through various cinematic devices, prevent the viewer from identifying with the characters in the way one might with a more mainstream movie. Instead of vicariously enjoying the sex and injury, the viewer finds himself a disimpassioned voyeur. Adams additionally notes that the scars borne by the characters are old and bloodless—in other words, the wounds lack vitality. The wound is "not traumatizing" but, rather, "a condition of our psychical and social life".
The film was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. In the end, it won the Special Jury Prize. It was also nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
In 1996, the film won six Genie Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, including awards for Cronenberg as director and screenwriter. The film was also nominated in two further categories, including producer. Crash was also nominated in 1998 for the USA Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.
The film won in the category of Best Alternative Adult Feature Film Award at the 1998 Adult Video News Awards.
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- Crash at Rotten Tomatoes
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- Total Film – Who is the greatest?
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