David Cronenberg’s Crash is a study of incredibly sick people who share a mutual fetish involving sex and car crashes, which means that it’s also one of the most disturbing films ever made. Even after seventeen years, the film has lost none of its potency.
I’ve been writing on the subject of film for a very long time. As a result, I like to think that I am fairly thick-skinned. In all of that time, one film has consistently given me the creeps no matter how many times that I see it. That film is Crash. Each time that I have watched this film, I keep asking myself, “Why? Why are you watching this? How is this film going to benefit you in any way, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?” These are all valid questions, and my answer to each one of them is this: “I have no idea.”
Crash is a provocative and intellectual film, which explores some interesting – if entirely troubling – ideas. In many ways, Crash is typical Cronenberg in the way that the film explores the effects that car crashes have on the human body. If you are familiar with Cronenberg’s work, you will note that he is quite preoccupied with the functions of the human body – in this case, the American obsession with vehicles and the extreme sexual implications of that obsession.
In the film, a man named James Ballard (James Spader) is drawn into an underground club of fetishists who derive sexual pleasure from viewing, and being part of, violent car crashes. The leader of the group is a horribly scarred man ￼named Vaughn (Elias Koteas, in one of his best performances), who regularly stages re-enactments of celebrity car crashes, and whose philosophy is deeply rooted in the “reshaping of the human body by modern technology”. One of his followers, a woman named Gabrielle, is clad in a full body brace which nearly renders her immobile and in constant need of assistance – in effect, the physical manifestation of Vaughn’s twisted delusions.
Both James and his wife, Catherine, spend most of their days carrying out sexual exploits with other partners, only to come home and reveal the graphic details to one another. Right from the start, we see that their relationship is a bit on the unorthodox side, and so it is not entirely absurd that these two people would fall into a cult such as this one. Thankfully, the film never offers any easy answers to ease the audience. We are thrown into the pit along with these morally repugnant individuals to watch their sick fantasies play out. Those looking for the “point” of it all will be sorely disappointed. This is a film about the nature of obsession and unexplainable desire, and there are no pat or contrived explanations to be found.
The notorious sex scenes within the film are graphic and unsettling, as these people come together simply as a means to an end. The sex within the film is devoid of emotion and, more often than not, unapologetically shocking. With this being said, these scenes sit comfortably within the context of the film, pulling us even further into the dreary, rain-drenched world of flesh, metal, and steel that Cronenberg has created.
￼Crash is a noteworthy film. However, whether or not you should choose to subject yourself to this sort of material is entirely up to you.