David Cronenberg is cinema’s agent provocateur. Yes, he makes very provocative films but his filmography is more than mere provocation of the senses. He provokes the mind. He provokes our soul. In fact, Cronenberg provokes our every being. The pinnacle of this signature psychological deconstruction of sex and violence is his 1996 opus Crash.
Highly sexualized but never sexually erotic, Crash is based on J.G. Ballard’s novel and tells the story of Toronto film producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), and how they get devolve into a world of sexual perversion and hedonistic debouchery where ultimate satisfaction is achieved in car crashes. This underground group led by Vaughan (Elias Koteas) live their lives chasing for car crashes to derive sexual pleasure rather than avoiding them.
Filmed with such clinical precision by Cronenberg, these scenes of unease are more than just provocations but a blunt social commentary on the fleeting and irrational nature of human carnality. Coupled with an eerie musical score by Howard Shore and claustrophobic cinematography by Peter Suschitzky, Crash sets the atmosphere for and exposes a world of sexual taboo – immortalizing it in film.
Critics panned Crash because it is perverse, depraved, disturbing and yes, immoral. But Cronenberg’s treatise on sex and violence does not strike one as immoral for these themes are viewed with such scientific detachment. Indeed, Crash is ultimately an amoral film that perfectly encapsulates the alienation of the modern human spirit in a post-modern society.