CRASH is an extremely well made but utterly preposterous show. It
is so far out that it is off of any scale you can imagine. Suffice it
to say that it pushes the limits of its NC-17 rating. All of this
notwithstanding, the film is a taut thriller that keeps you on the edge
of your seat.
The day before the press screening of CRASH, I saw a screening of
a film, KISSED, about necrophilia. KISSED seems like REBECCA OF
SUNNYBROOK FARM in comparison with CRASH.
CRASH's Canadian director, David Cronenberg, has a taste for films
on the edge. Some of them have been critical and financial successes.
Perhaps his most widely acclaimed film was THE FLY, but I am also a fan
of THE DEAD ZONE and DEAD RINGERS. Cronenberg's last film was the
controversial M. BUTTERFLY.
Now, what if you team Cronenberg with a writer who is even farther
out? Well, CRASH's script was adapted by Cronenberg from a semi-
autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard. Although you may know Ballard
from another semi-autobiographical novel of his, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, his
background is more in the science fiction realm.
The press kit is a treasure trove of information on the author.
Ballard says that, "'Crash' is an autobiographical novel in the sense
that it is about my inner life, my imaginative life." More telling is
the quote from a reader employed by his publisher, who, upon reading
"Crash," declared that, "This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do
Have you ever thought of car crashes as a mating dance for Homo
sapiens? Well, Ballard did and that's only part of his amoral, sexual
fantasies in the film.
James Spader, recreating a character with the same coldness as
Graham in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, plays James Ballard. Ballard in
the film is a sometime film producer. Most of the film he is either
engaged in sex or car crashes or both. He and his wife Catherine
(Deborah Unger) make love in ways and in places you've probably never
thought of before. (The film does not discriminate. People young and
old, rich and poor, clean and dirty, male and female -- all have sex
with each other in various combinations.) Unger is perfectly cast in
the role. Her vacant eyes had me convinced that she was dead more than
once during the film.
James has an accident early in the film when his car crashes head
on into another car. The dead driver of the other car is thrown into
the front seat with James. He exchanges stares with the passenger in
the other car, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter). After James and
Helen get out of the hospital, they find that car crashes are the
ultimate sexual turn-on for them. Second would be bodily disfiguration
caused by crashes.
The car crashes and the sex scenes are quite graphic and
realistic. Cronenberg delights in gratuitous violence. And yet, the
filmmaking is intriguing despite its repugnant aspects. Still, if you
or a close friend has ever been hurt in a car crash, I would avoid this
film like the plague since it will undoubtedly rekindle bad memories.
Those of us fortunate enough not to be in that position can perhaps
look upon the film a bit more dispassionately. (When I entered the
parking garage before the picture I was almost hit from behind, and
when I left, I was almost hit in the front. I am not making this up as
Dave Barry would say.)
Just when you think you've met the weirdest group of characters
imaginable, stranger people still come on the scene. Easily the most
deviant character of the lot is a fellow known as Vaughan (Elias
Koteas). His specialty is recreating the great car crashes of history.
As he and two of his friends reenact the James Dean crash, one wonders
who will survive. In the viewing stands, even James and Helen are
surprised by Vaughan's antics until, of course, they get turned on by
them. Vaughan is something of a philosopher. He tells us that, "The
car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event."
Perhaps the whole show can be summed up in the scene where the
whole crowd of car crash worshipers huddle around their television.
Looking like Super Bowl Sunday, these viewers are glued to the screen,
watching tapes of car crashes even if the narration is in German. When
the VCR freezes during Helen's favorite crash, she acts like an addict
getting the shakes from trying to kick the habit. (Also in their
clique is Rosanna Arquette playing a woman named Gabrielle whose legs
are bound in metal casts from her accident.)
The cinematography by Peter Suschitzky is alternatively beautiful
and gory -- blending shadows, headlights, chrome, sex, and gashing
wounds. The sets by Carol Spier are gritty and almost clinically
realistic. The oppressive music by Howard Shore bristles with tension
from the twangy guitar strings. The music could be administered to
prisoners of war in an attempt to crack them.
When the half dozen critics left the press screening, each of us
found ourselves saying to the other, "Drive carefully."
CRASH runs 1:40. It is rated NC-17 for graphic violence, accident
carnage, full frontal nudity, explicit and aberrant sexual content,
drug usage, and the list goes on. This show is not appropriate for
kids of any age. As a thriller and a piece of filmmaking, CRASH is
quite impressive, but I could never bring myself to recommend this
exploitive film. I give it **.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes