Sunday, November 12, 2006

David Cronenberg's Crash

This film has the unfortunate fate of always having to be qualified as "No, not that Crash, the other one." Why is this film "the other Crash"? A large part is because it's one of the odder films you'll ever see, taking Cronenberg's fascination with the fusion of the body and technology to an interesting extreme, erasing the boundaries between the act of driving and the act of having sex.

I haven't seen that much Cronenberg, but the man has a very specific style of directing, and all his films could easily fit into a meta-Cronenbergverse. His shot choice isn't immediately distinctive, but watching this, there was a certain similarity to his other works. His characters frequently have an odd way of interacting with each other, and the people here almost never have a normal conversation. Ballard will say a line and Catherine will say a line, but it's more like seperate monologues than dialogue.

The thing that makes the film work is the same thing that makes Videodrome a success, the way that Cronenberg gradually draws you into a world of deviant behavior. You don't view the film in the way you watch most films, empathizing with the characters and sharing in the struggle. Here, it's more like you're just offscreen, in the same room with the characters, hanging out with them, but still uncertain of why they're doing what they're doing. Much has been made of the idea of the gaze in film, and this certainly emphasizes the voyeuristic. All the characters play to the camera, most notably in the scene with Rosanna Arquette in the car dealership, where she becomes an exhibitionist for all of us. This is made explicit with the dealer's presence, but it's not even needed, we're forced into his role through the construction of the film.

Basically, the characters are all about extremes. Ballard starts out in an odd, but still somewhat conventional relationship. For Catherine, it's at first enough to have sex on a stationary plane, but as the film rolls on, she needs more, and so does James. Here it's the car crash subculture that becomes that obsession. As the film progresses, it's all about raising the stakes, and that means that, for them, sex is all about danger. In the end, her car crashes and rolls over, but the fact that she's still alive means they didn't go far enough. That's why James says "Maybe next time." Vaughan makes the parallels explicit when he says the car crash is not a destructive event, it is a fertilizing one. The ultimate climax would be to die in a crash and experience a brief moment of perfect transendence in the process.

The thing that makes the film odd is that it's completely implausible. Vaughan would almost certainly have died from what he's trying to do, and I don't really see anyone getting a sexual charge from a car crash, at least not for long. So, the entire film is based on a metaphor, substituting car crashes for any sexual hangup. It's also tough because Cronenberg never gives us an outside point of view, no one questions what they're doing, no matter how ridiculous. A normal plot would have Catherine mad at James for what he's doing, but she gets drawn in without a big to do. The characters all connected through their fetish, and it's up to the viewer to judge them.

This subject matter is perfect for Cronenberg. His films almost always deal with the fusion of technology and the human body. So, the medical accsessories, notably Rosanna Arquette's leg braces become more about fetishistic presentation than medical assistance. It's a weird film, and that's a good thing. Watching this, you drift into their world and get lost in something completely other.


Filmaticon said...

This is a fantastically superior movie over the later lackluster Oscar-fare flop that stole the name. Most viewers see that, especially as the Oscar movie fades into publicity-saturated oblivion. The superior Cronenberg production is drawn from the equally legendary J.G. Ballard novel that is beyond the contemplation of the makers of the later rip-off. I no longer hear anyone confusing the two.

Patrick said...

I'd agree, I think the future of film criticism will see the Cronenberg Crash as the superior movie. However, the best picture win does linger in peoples' minds, and sadly, I think this film will forever have to be referred to as David Cronenberg's Crash, not that bad movie you're thinking of. said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that's what I suppose.