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||$23.2 million|
Crash is a 1996 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 upon 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 and violence. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Prize, a unique award that is distinct from the Jury Prize as it is not given annually, but only at the request of the official jury (for example, the previous year, both a Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize were awarded). When then jury president Francis Ford Coppola announced the award "for originality, for daring and for audacity," he stated that it had been a controversial choice and that certain jury members, "did abstain very passionately." The award has not been given since. It received 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 Best Picture.
Their arousal is heightened by discussing the intimate details of their extramarital sex. She recounts sex that day with a stranger in a prop plane hangar, where she caresses the plane hull with her bare breast as the film's opening scene. She was left unsatisfied however. When Ballard replies he did not achieve satisfaction with his office sexual encounter that day, as he was interrupted, his wife replies "maybe the next one".
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 dead 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 (Elias Koteas), 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, a re-creation of the car crash that killed James Dean with authentic cars and stunt drivers. When Department of Transport 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 has sex with 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. Later, Vaughan and Ballard eventually turn towards each other and have sex while, also 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 in an intentional crash. It ends with another deliberate crash where Ballard rams his wife's car, as she unbuckles her seat belt intentionally. As he caresses her bruised body on the grass median near the crash, she replies that she is unhurt. As they lovingly copulate under the overturned car, the film ends with Ballard whispering in her ear, "Maybe the next one", implying their fetish involves 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.
The controversial subject matter prompted The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard to orchestrate an aggressive campaign to ban Crash in the United Kingdom. In response to this outcry, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) inquired with a Queen's Counsel and a psychologist, none of whom found any justification to ban it, and 11 disabled people, who saw no offense with its portrayal of the physically challenged. Seeing no evidence for a ban, Crash was passed by the BBFC uncut with an 18 rating in March 1997.
The film was still 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, and it was easily seen in nearby Camden. 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".
An academic study of the controversy and audience responses to it, written by Martin Barker, Jane Arthurs and Ramaswami Harindranath, was published by Wallflower Press in 2001, entitled The Crash Controversy: Censorship Campaigns and Film Reception. 
The film received a mixed response from critics, albeit with some notable supporters. It has a 59% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 51 reviews, with an average score of 6.6/10. The consensus reads: "Despite the surprisingly distant, clinical direction, Crash's explicit premise and sex is classic Cronenberg territory." On Metacritic, the film's score is listed as 47 out of 100, as determined by 22 critics, signifying "mixed or average reviews".
In his contemporary review, Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing:
"Crash" is about characters entranced by a sexual fetish that, in fact, no one has. Cronenberg has made a movie that is pornographic in form, but not in result... [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".
BBC film critic Mark Kermode has described Crash as "pretty much perfect" and praised Howard Shore's score, while admitting that it's a "hard film to like" and describing the cast's performances as "glacial".
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".
Awards and nominations
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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