Crash (1996) Review

(excerpt from my Cronenberg paper)

When one looks at the films typically considered “Cronenbergesque” it’s clear why. Videodrome, The Fly, Scanners, eXistenZ all have the clear melding of man and technology with plenty of sexual content strewn about. Cronenberg in his later years has done quite a few films that on the surface seem very odd for him, but actually end up fitting his style perfectly. Crash is one such film. On the surface it’s about a group of people who get sexually excited by car crashes, but just underneath the surface is a slow commentary on sex and technology. The tropes of a Cronenberg film are there, just shown in a different light.

The editing in a lot of Cronenberg films is very discontinuous, forcing you to read between the lines and most of the time creating the feeling of a labyrinth. This usually makes sense with the descent that most characters make into madness/sanity/clarity/etc… With Crash it also fits, marking the characters James Spader’s and Deborah Unger’s descent into the world of erotic crashes. This descent is clear, but what isn’t clear in the story is where it’s going. There’s no end goal, no antagonist. There’s just an ever increasing amount of sex and violence that ends with (big shocker) a car crash (with more sex). While this may turn off some viewers, what it does allow is for an audience to mull over the images presented in front of them and fully understand or at least interpret Cronenberg’s metaphor.

Cronenberg’s movies tend to take place in the shadows, and Crash is no stranger to them. Sure there are scenes that take place during the day, but a good chunk of the film contains low-key lighting. The lighting, coupled with the editing, is what really gives the film it’s Cronenberg feel. Be it to emphasize the shady world the characters are descending into or to show how certain characters have a dark side, the lighting gives life to the world we’re viewing.

The score is a unique listen, containing little more than an electric guitar. The eerie sounds it emits blanket the movie in this strange surrealistic ambience. The lack of any other instrument helps also to create a feeling of isolation, despite the frequent sexual activity on screen. In fact Cronenberg plays on isolation not just with the sound, but with the framing as well. There are several points in the movie where despite characters sitting right next to each other, their close-ups are framed to show just them, leaving empty space to the side if necessary. In one particular scene were James Spader, Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette are sitting on the couch and their close ups show only their heads, but immediately following those shots is a single shot showing all of their crotches, where they are stroking/fingering each others genitals. It’s isolation of the mind, despite intimacy of the body.

Cronenberg’s metaphor that runs through Crash is that the meeting of metal violently in a car crash is not unlike the meeting of flesh during sex. The only difference is the speed at which each happens. Hence Holly Hunter yelling at the VCR to go slower when watching car crash test footage. Cronenberg seems to speak occasionally through the character Vaughn, bringing some of Cronenberg’s traditional ideas into context. For example the Cronenbergesque idea of body manipulated by technology is quite relevant to Crash. The bodies of the characters are not only twisted and broken by the car crashes, but also manipulated by the medical technology. These manipulations, as the true melding of technology and body, Cronenberg and his characters fetishizes them, making out with the scars and bruises. At the end of the movie where Deborah Unger’s car crash proves to provide her no real bodily harm, James Spader whispers “Maybe next time.” It’s as if these manipulations are the ideal furthering of the body, or as Videodrome calls it “The New Flesh.”

Cronenberg uses long, and what could be considered gratuitous sex scenes. These scenes are plentiful and often times long, but they do serve a purpose. The NC-17 this film earned prevented people from seeing what Cronenberg was trying to do. There are so many sex scenes and each one is different, conveying different emotions and serving different purposes. They are not only important for character development and showing their addiction and descent into a sex-crazed madness. That’s not to say that the plot of the film doesn’t becomes lost amongst the constant sex and soon it becomes clear that we’re as lost as the characters are. Whether this was Cronenberg’s intent or not is up for debate, but it does make for a viewing experience that requires a lot of patience.

Can you believe that my professor thought my analysis of Cronenberg’s metaphor (with some revision) would be worthy of publishing?

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