Crash (Cronenberg; 1996)
Crash is only my second Cronenberg, following 2005’s brilliant A History of Violence. The enormous controversy surrounding this one made me desperate to seek it out, and I’m glad that I did so, even if it is stranger than anything I could have imagined. And that’s probably one of it’s strengths? Crash completely dismisses everything that audiences have been geared to expect from film: here, there is barely a narrative in the conventional sense, and instead there’s sex scene after sex scene after sex scene and so on. There’s minimal development outside of sex/cars, and the characters come across as glacial as a result. And indeed, the entire film feels cold and metallic from the harsh silvers/blues/browns of the cinematography to Howard Shore’s appropriately dissonant score. The fact that the actors are so flat and distant is just another part of the emotionless world that Cronenberg constructs – there’s little of the human drama that we’re accustomed to in film: even the death of a major character is treated with nonchalance, and the ending fails to provide any resolution to events that proceeded it (though I doubt that it could have?)
Through this stylized setting then, Crash challenges, and predicts a redefinition of, human interaction. It’s a pessimistic and disconcerting world-view, but I found it all the more enthralling because of it. As the film is overwhelmed by sex, we can assume that this IS Cronenberg’s method of forwarding plot. The lack of psychological depth to the characters is more than evident during these scenes: they engage in lovemaking whilst lacking the ability to summon up the ‘love’ part of the equation. The transposition of sex from the bedroom to the car marks a desperate attempt to uncover some feeling in this gruesome, ever-mechanised world. Is this the next step in the debasement of sex, Cronenberg seems to ask? Are the cheap, primal thrills all that we can aspire to as our roles are further replaced by machinery and we grow ever desensitized to the world? The character of Vaughan attempts to provide some method to this madness, using terms like ‘psychopathology’ – but to me, his words came across as little more than psycho_babble_ and proved yet another sign of the characters’ dislocation. Vaughan does touch on a good point though: as technology continues to infiltrate upon human life, an intrusion into the world of sex doesn’t seem as inconceivable as it should be (or at least, not in Cronenberg’s vision.)
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Crash then, is that despite it’s inherent bleakness, it manages to remain a surprisingly sexy film. Cronenberg’s camera sinuously glides over cars, bodies and wreckage – and as it’s our only method of looking, it’s difficult not to fall into the director’s trap of enslaving the audience as voyeurs but more importantly: potential fetishists. The scars and the mutilation are repulsive on the surface, but should one be seduced by the camera and it’s possible to fathom the attraction on the base level at which the characters exist – and perhaps that’s Cronenberg’s real masterstroke here: he lures us into this world viscerally. He makes it difficult to incriminate the characters by removing most feelings, but should we choose to do so then he suggests that we should also look at ourselves for enjoying some of these thrills. Is it not gripping when Vaughan tries to smash into Catherine’s car as a means of foreplay? And is it possible not to be turned on by Catherine, bare naked, describing the taste of semen? Perhaps the alignment of audience with character is the reason why the film remains so divisive, then? Either way, it’s a film that I admire a LOT for its audacity – even if it is something that I won’t be in a particular hurry to return to.