Crash (1996) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

David Cronenberg is a filmmaker who requires a great deal of intellectual participation from the viewer. When you watch his movies, you can either sit there with your mouth open, marveling at the sheer daftness of his obsessions, or you can take up his challenge.

"Crash" is a good movie if you just accept one thing. It doesn't take place in our universe, but in a parallel one where the connection between cars and sex is far more explicit. Auto-eroticism has a different meaning in that universe, and the darker side of this fetish involves automobile accidents, which really turn some people on.  If you try to question everything that happens by saying "that's just too silly" or "that could never happen", you won't like the movie at all, because it really postulates a "what if ..." scenario of how we might be if our human culture had been ever so slightly different. On the other hand, it is more accessible than some of Cronenberg's other films because it doesn't really ask you to believe in bad science or mystical experiences or apparent suspensions of natural law. All you have to do is think to yourself,  "maybe we aren't like this, but we could have been"

I don't much like films with no warmth, and I don't much care for Cronenberg in general. The first time I watched this movie I was repelled by it. I suppose I am still repelled by it, as most people are, but now I'm also dazzled.

James Spader's character is in a distant marriage which seems barely held together by the two partners having affairs, then turning each other on with the descriptions of their outside liaisons. When Spader has an automobile accident, he finds that his wounds and breaks have become erotic objects for his wife and others. He becomes more and more fascinated by this, and his research eventually leads him to a cult of accident survivors who obsess about their scars and braces, about famous crashes and cars, etc. For light entertainment, they all watch public safety films, and masturbate over the crash dummies. As you can imagine, they turn rubbernecking into a science, and pore through accident sites feeling the hot metal, tasting the blood, and photographing the aftermath. Since they live in an alternate universe, police and paramedics and firefighters simply ignore them.


Holly Hunter - breast

Rosanna Arquette -breast

Deborah Unger - frontal

Yolande Julian - breast

Alice Poon -breast

 Cronenberg uses this imaginary universe to explore some facets of our own:
  • the replacement of humans by machines, in this case symbolized by Rosanna Arquette and her mechanized body which is barely distinguishable from the car Spader screws her in. Is he inflamed by her braces or the transmission?

  • flirting with death as a sexual stimulus (it's no coincidence that Cronenberg also directed Burroughs' Naked Lunch, since that novel is about the death-wish as much as anything else)

  • the impact of sexual obsession on other facets of life

  • the contrapositive impact of shared non-sexual obsessions on sexual attraction. Once people are drawn into this cult, they want to rut with everyone else in it, same sex or not. The obsession transcends all other considerations. It's no coincidence that they mention the Kennedy assassination. The cult obsessed with that event is the perfect match in our own universe.

Is Cronenberg nuts? Absolutely. 

Is he brilliant? Absolutely. 

He illustrates perfectly the fine line between genius and madness. The movie is well performed, masterfully photographed, sustains its mood perfectly, and is an aesthetically pleasing replication of its own cold-steel emotionless Bizarro world. There is no love or warmth in this world, only obsession and stimulus. There are no children or kittens, or anything else which might soften the hearts of the denizens. This movie is like Andy Kaufmann's comedy: it never winks and comes out of character and tells you everything is OK. It wants you to hate it, because if it works, a normal person should hate everything about it. This film might repulse you, in fact it should repulse you, but you can't deny its imaginative power. 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.78:1

  • both R and NC-17 versions of the film

  • Making-of featurette

 In the end, Deborah Unger gets into a near-fatal crash. In fact, she appears at first to be dead. When she becomes conscious and says that she is not dying, Spader screws her and says "well, maybe next time". 

The end.

Now that I said all of those good things about Cronenberg, I hasten to add that I don't know why anybody finances these things. He's nothing but a guy who uses his own particular medium to explore and detail his own personal obsessions. 

Imagine, for example, a guy whose medium was the internet instead of film, and he just used his web page to rant on interminably about Russian movies, and William Shatner, and Abe Vigoda, and how Gerard Depardieu is so big that he wears Van Allen's Belt around his waist.... 

Oops. Never mind. 

The Critics Vote

  • no consensus, as you can see from this range, which encompasses about every possible grade: Maltin 1.5/4,  Berardinelli 2/4, Apollo 61/100, Ebert 3.5/4,

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 46% positive reviews, but only 33% from the top people.

  • It won a special jury prize at Cannes.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.5, Apollo viewers 52/100
  • With their dollars ... it was a break-even kind of film. Made for $10 million, it took in three million in the USA. With overseas and other revenues, it didn't lose much, if anything.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it's a C+ - a genre film that achieves a brilliant realization of its goals, but will appeal to few people because of its complete lack of warmth and its existence in an imaginary "what if" universe. I don't like the movie, but I admire its craftsmanship and originality.

Return to the Movie House home page