After much debating and frustrating soul searching, I think I can say with some authority that Crash is my favorite Cronenberg film. The subversive approach to sexuality complete with the alternating philosophies proposed by the characters which are not, in fact, reinforced by the film itself. The beauty of Suschitzky’s cinematography regarding humans and their vehicles as equals, I mean, there are some amazingly provocative philosophical implications to Crash. The performances are also particularly removed and fascinating in that there’s an almost Bressonian lack of emotion at times. There is so much to say about this bizarre, unique work of sexual provocation, especially after the huge criticism it suffered upon release.
What do you think? Genius? Awful? Underrated? Overrated? Much better than Haggis’ Crash? Much worse? Thoughts?
Fitting that Crash author JG Ballard’s death was announced today.
The film version of Crash is awful. While the book was terrific, it was hardly a novel with any sort of linear storyline to it, it was more of a diary of kinky wishes…Cronenberg created a narrative and, as with Naked Lunch, he’s taken provocative material and made it tedious and even unintentionally laughable. Oddly, he chose the most vapid of actors (James Spader) as the film’s lead. A major mis-step.
Surely there are seemingly unfilmable novels that make excellent movies (Slaughterhouse Five, Birdy, Remains of the Day, The Manchurian Candidate), but there are just as many that do not translate…Crash is one of them.
PS - I’m a huge Cronenberg fan…Rabid, The Brood, The Fly and Dead Ringers are masterpieces of horror.
Great film. Ballard talks about his novel as about “that brutal, erotic, and overlit realm that beckons more and more persuasively to us from the margins of the technological landscape.” Bertolucci called the film a religious masterpiece. And the film is sort of post-affect, isn’t it?
While the premise of Crash is fascinating, I found this one to be one of the more inferior Cronenberg films. I have to agree with Jaspar on this one. I could get past the scenes that are very difficult to watch, but the characters just don’t do it for me.
Jaspar – I find it interesting that you consider Spader as vapid, whereas I’d say he has a strange kind of naivete that plays into Cronenberg’s hands in Crash. His character is at first lost, unknowingly incomplete until he is submerged into this culture of transformation. And then he is made into a pupil, attempting to understand his fascination with Vaughan (whose performance is undeniably brilliant) and the so-called “fertilizing event” of the crashes, even if he denies its application.
Adaptations of books, especially ones like Naked Lunch and Crash which express abstract concepts, are incredibly difficult to transfer between mediums. Cronenberg is one of the braver directors in that he realizes the remove between mediums and instead of taking the book and trying to film it, he crafted visual situations and events where he could express similarly abstract concepts, skewed by his own personal perspective.
Well, it’s no AMERICAN BEAUTY….
Stupid movie. Cronenberg is a disgusting freak. Why anyone would watch his misogynistic, freak-sex films is beyond me. And people think this guy’s actually an artist.
Well, it’s no BENJAMIN BUTTON…
Oh come on. I hate Spader too but his malleability here was perfect. Plus he couldn’t compete with Elias Koteas, the near catatonic saint, the diva of diesel apocalypse, the concussive character. “Concussion, eh? We know all about that.” These characters aren’t quite changing their bodies as much as the people in Rabid, Brood and Videodrome. But Holly Hunter getting fucked in her leg stump as if her reprodctive organs had migrated there, like the womb that believed to travel through a female hysteric’s body. The stark ending, as the film is narrowed and narrowed, driven to its inevitable obsessive end, where they meet in the clinical airplane hangar, and then wend down a hillside until they reach a ditch where they can have sex. Everything is gone by the end. A less subtle film would have had them seething, drunk and out of control like the doomed actors of the film within the film in Dangerous Game. The already existent obsession with cars in our culture dovetails into this new and honest obsession with the power of wanting cars as the fetish objects they have always already secretly been.
Well, if that’s what floats your boat. Meanwhile, back on the farm . . .
Justin, I’m thinking of hiring you to do all my arguing for me.
The ending really is pitch-perfect and I can’t fathom how someone could not enjoy watching them left to their own devices, they’re like children imitating their parents. It’s beautiful.
However, “Stupid movie. Cronenberg is a disgusting freak. Why anyone would watch his misogynistic, freak-sex films is beyond me. And people think this guy’s actually an artist.” has got us there. He really took me down a notch. What exactly about this is misogynistic is beyond me, but it’d be nice to have some elaboration, Mr. Goodspeed.
I can certainly understand the cold clinical feel of the film as being part of the atmosphere that Cronenberg wanted it, and being a reflection of the cold clinical language Ballard uses to describe the action of the novel. I just think Cronenberg went overboard, making the film so cold and so clinical that there’s just nothing there to latch onto. Ballard’s characters are always thrillingly and creepily alive in a way that the film doesn’t, to me at least, manage to capture.
Nay, don’t want to waste my time on this guy. If you like his films, great. Like I said, “Whatever floats your boat.” But watch “Dead Ringers” and maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Dead Ringers is another amazing movie.Your point?
Roscoe – I think this ties into the whole argument of how much a filmmaker owes the source material when he adapts it. I could see not enjoying it if I were a Ballard obsessive, but I have an existing preference for Cronenberg’s work so I’m always eager to see what elements he blends into his own unique vision, especially in the case of Crash. The cold and calculating nature of the narrative only helps to draw me into the story, especially with certain elements of Spader’s character working to assist in our identification with him. The fact that he is always on the brink of discovery, which is a universal feeling, also enhances the connection.
Another point of interest is the symbiotic relationship of sexuality and danger, which I don’t think anyone has ever explored as thoroughly and in such a unique and penetrating (pardon the pun) way as Cronenberg has in Crash.
I guess I can’t relate to the extreme points of view on this site. It bothered me the first time I was on here. I can never quite resist thinking it’s a bid for attention, a desperate bid to say something/anything original, even if it’s patently wrong and a slap in the face.
I like the Ballard novel. I can’t imagine a better, more sympatico, more gutsy adaptation than Cronenberg’s. He showed that he understood Ballard’s vision thoroughly. You can’t ask for more.
Well, okay, some people don’t like Crash. The fact is, these aren’t meant to be nornal characters. And for once that isn’t a cop-out. These are people who are following an idea, they are ideas actually. The less life-like and realistic they are, the better. Which is why Spader works here, and his wife is even more vapid or empty. But that only fuels the conflation of pleasure and pain which is going on throughout the film.
I went out and bought this movie today because I needed to have it again. My memory had failed me on some key points. The airplane hangar scene is first, not toward the end, and if anything it’s the scene that’s shot most like a porn film. It’s also probably the most normal sex in the film (licking chrome notwithstanding). Holly Hunter doesn’t have a stump, I was thinking of the fantastically vaginal wound running down Rosanna Arquette’s leg, in that full body brace contraption with the opening for her tit and the secret compartment for (medical?) marijuana. Also, I remembered Spader leading a woman down the hillside in the end, when he actually goes down alone to make love to his wife whom he has just run off the road.
The escalation of sex in cars to sex with cars — using your car to ram your lover’s car, or to run your lover off the road in a sort of ultimate hit and run fucking - is probably the most disturbing element of the film. I used to (mis)read this as homophobic. Vaughan surrenders to anal sex, so he has to go crazy and start running people off the road in a fit of macho aggression. No. I was wrong. It’s the final total integration of sex and cars: car body mates with car body, a truth already present in the first crash where Spader and Hunter “meet” as small bewildered faces in the middle of broken windshield and shattered chassis. The person is the soul inside the body of the car, so to speak, and it’s only in these moments where the body is broken through, that the soul appears.
Intriguingly, this kind of psychosexual car-sex stuff has made its way into several horror films (well, at least two that I can think of, The Hitcher and Joy Ride), in which specifically adolescent fears of being sexually inadequate or inexperienced are first compensated for by driving, then exposed and exacerbated by having the sanctuary of the car invaded and fucked with. The scene in Joy Ride where Rusty Nail’s rig “fucks” Paul Walker’s car by lifting it off the ground and crushing it against a tree is a sort of dumbed down imitation of the collision games played by the obsessed lovers in Crash.
I liked the book but I thought that the film was just badly done. I kept thinking: what? anal sex is a transgression? Since when? You want to fuck in cars? Ok… so what?
I did like the car crashes though and Vaugh’s almost religious attitude towards them, I wish there had been more of that and less of the not so interesting human interaction. Yes, the cars were more interesting than the characters. Maybe I’m exactly what Ballard was warning you about…
It wasn’t that it was too transgressive but that it took itself too seriously and I think that if it had been a bit more playful and not so self involved it would have been better. Ballard is interesting because his normal characters go through abnormal stories and keep their normality in a banal but interesting way. Something that I think was attempted by the casting of Spader, but in this case I couldn’t share is wide eyed innocence. It made it unintentionally funny. It’s too bad because it’s a great idea.
God, there is something so nauseating about this thread – the talk about humping leg stumps and vaginal wounds and all – that yanks at my morbid curiosity and pulls me back in for a second look, like a car crash.
Look at it this way: All body parts are equal it doesn’t matter where you stick them, into whom or why. Nothin’ nauseating. High School Musical is nauseating…
Justin, you can add Death Proof to that list of car/sex horror films. I watched this last night and although there isn’t any actual sex in the film, Kurt Russell’s character Stuntman Mike is definitely getting his sexual thrills through his vehicle.
Crash has to be up there with the most dissapointing films I’ve ever seen. While the premise itself was clever, the delivery of realism was way out in left feild. Throughout the entire movie it just didn’t seem credible and finally when the store owner showed up at the locksmith’s house, fired, and then the locksmith just walks back into his house without ever saying a word to the dude – I mean get real. That put the nail in the coffin for this film. For it to win best picture is mind blowing.
Sorry – just realized the Crash movie intended for discussion was not the one I thought it was! Haven’t seen the Cronenberg film.
The film is an analysis of sexual fetish as a whole, it’s not about people fucking in cars, it’s about why. Haven’t read the novel and hopefully never will because the idea of “normal” people going through these acts defeats the purpose of the film: these people are ideas put on film, it’s a form of Bresson-like cinema where the characters act stiff and wooden because they are merely pawns of their circumstances, tools for the director to manipulate in order to show. This is by far Cronenberg’s best film, his other films use sexuality as a theme, but never as the story itself as Crash does, despite Cronenberg using sexuality through the grotesque/surreal/violent as a major focal point of all his films.
And I can’t agree with the Spader haters since I regard him as one of the best underrated American actors still working.
Count me out of this one, ugh.
Soybean, good call on Death Proof, which I haven’t seen but I’m sure you’re correct.
Belmondo, well said, it’s very much a film about surfaces and textures — smooth or twisted chrome, broken glass, also the driving gloves Hunter wears (that’s a fetish!), and Arquette’s “bondage” brace. What’s fascinating is the deepening of experience, how it becomes just one encounter after another. They are already seeking something more sexually, and that more ends up being a special kind of death. “Maybe next time, darling,” the final chilling words of the film, spoken tenderly by James to his wife, after she has said, almost disappointed, “I think I’m all right.” Vaughan — like some cult leader — has changed these people utterly. His death, rather than taking him out of the game, has made him the game. It’s a lot like the viruses passed from body to body in Rabid and Shivers.
Loki, I get your point. But this is not the work of an uptight person. At least I don’t think so. I’d be very surprised if it were. They settle for sex in parked cars; they’d rather be having sex in cars that are crashing. That’s a new one on me.
“Death Proof” could be renamed “Chicks Talking in Cars and Chicks Talking in Bars.” Tarantino loves the sound of his own voice. He thinks he’s got that dialogue thing down, and it completely ruined this film. Just see Vanishing Point again.
And Loki, rereading your earlier post — “all body parts are equal, doesn’t matter where you stick them or why.” Again, I understand you are saying we should be free to have sex the way we want to, but what you seem to be literally saying is that we should free ourselves from judgment by becoming rutting animals or machines who are interchangeable. It matters to me whose parts are whose, and where and why, etc.
Eli, no need to bash Tarantino on this thread. Soybean was just saying that the subject matters of these films overlapped.
Justin- I am not saying that we should become anything, only that IF some people want to become rutting machines then ok, they should. It’s not nauseating necessarily. Hurting other people is nauseating, not giving them pleasure.
If some people get off by car crashes I totally understand… I think I was bored with Crash because a: I read the book and was tainted and b: the interesting part, about how people, whether individuals or a group can come up with their own idea of pleasure and pain was kind of lost behind the attempt to shock.
Freeing ourselves from judgment does not mean that we descend to the lowest common denominator, it just means that we acknowledge that everybody has the ability/right/ to find pleasure where they want. I really wanted to like the film because I liked the book (along with Concrete Island, Highrise and others) but something went wrong in the translation. Ballard’s characters slide into their own world from ours, so that they leave ours and inhabit solely the one they made up and you go along and it feels natural, step by step (as I think you were mentioning above). In the film that because of the gloss of the cinema, because of the way the actors presented the story, things were shown as perversions where in the book they are shown as natural, not as perverse. It’s almost like it should have been directed by Billy Wilder or somebody, then it would have worked.
I think what was presented in the book as natural (which worked) was presented in the movie as an attempt at things foreign and shocking and that’s why it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ve been hanging around the wrong side of the tracks too long…
“…we should free ourselves from judgment by becoming rutting animals…”
I find it interesting that this was brought up, considering Shivers’ content.
I don’t think that Crash contains any real ‘attempt(s) to shock,’ I see it more as a necessity for images that are shocking, but in the final product I don’t think Cronenberg films them with any intention of setting them apart from the norm. So the images shock due to their content, but the way it’s presented is very clinical and objective, at least in my opinion. That’s one of my favorite things about this movie. The rampant perverse sexuality is presented the same way as the hospital sequences are, but the cars are filmed (particularly the car crash site that they explore together) very sensually.
I think Cronenberg means for us to ask these questions about sexuality. How are we define it? Is it just something that is, without needing analysis? By framing sexuality in a context of something that is not regarded as typically sexual, is sex itself changed? It’s legitimate to feel, like Loki does, that sex is sex is sex; I don’t think Cronenberg would be displeased necessarily with that conclusion. Cars are sexualized in our culture, but how many people would seek out sex in a wrecked car where their friend had just burned to death? And even if we say, “That’s fine, why not?” it’s still unusual and intriguing.
Joshua is right, there is a sensual eye brought to the wrecked metal and broken glass. What’s interesting about a wrecked car is that its final shape is accidental; like snowflakes (or penises) all crashed cars are different. It’s that sense of fate, of not being able to duplicate it twice in the same way, that seems part of the car club’s pleasure. Everything in life is predictable, routine — except these random works of art, these crashes. As Vaughan intimates, it’s about getting crazy. Technology is invented and perfected and used to make us saner and more rational, to make our lives more convenient — therefore, the most subversive thing you do can do is to figure out how to use technology to make life harder and more painful, and to be a bridge to insanity, to “benevolent psychopathology.”
In some ways, Pahlaniuk’s Fight Club rips off Ballard a little. The idea of living for the moment, living a secret life of adrenalin and risk within the normal world of conformity. Don’t forget that Edward Norton begins as an accident investigator, and that his first act of liberation is to blow up his overfurnished, gadget-loaded apartment.
I’m glad we are talking about this stuff because I find discussions about things like this fascinating, as much as (or maybe even more than) the film itself. That’s what Cronenberg’s best films do so well. They stimulate discussion.
Justin – Fair enough.