Crash (1996) is one of those notorious films, along with A Clockwork Orange (1971), which are controversial in nature and have probably gained over-inflated reputations based on their notoriety. The repuation of David Cronenberg’s Crash was cemented early on when Francis Ford Coppola refused to present him with the Special Jury Prize for Crash at the Cannes Film Festival.
Of all Stanley Kubrick’s films A Clockwork Orange ranks as one of my least favourites. Not because it’s shocking or disturbing, which it is, but because it’s a difficult film to enjoy. It feels more like a lecture than entertainment. These deliberately provocative films are designed to unsettle. They have a polemical function.
Videodrome is probably David Cronenberg’s best work. Although it’s disturbing, it makes sense as a story. Existenz, probably his second best film, also makes sense as a story. I’m not sure if the same thing can be said of Crash. It feels like an idea in search of a story.
The body-shock horror is one of Cronenberg’s reoccurring signature themes and Crash is no exception. The film is basically about the main characters’ inability to satisfy their sexual impulses, and the sexual fetishisation of traumatic injury and life-threatening situations.
Crash is one of a string of offbeat 80s and 90s independent-type films, like Fight Club, that present an alternative, non-mainstream view of the world. These films are designed to challenge socially conservative values.
That’s the theory. What’s the film actually like?
Crash is part bad 90s erotic thriller, part horror, and part over-intellectualised Indie movie. It hasn’t aged too well. If it was shocking in 1996, I think a lot of people watching it today might find it vaguely ridiculous. It’s satirical, but I’m not sure what the target is. Western consumer society? Human nature? The largely middle-class audience watching the film?
J G Ballard spoke positively about the film, stating that it had exceeded the vision of his novel. That’s high praise. I haven’t read J G Ballard’s novel, but my guess is that (like High Rise, another of his novels) it’s aged far better than the film.