In many ways David Cronenberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's 1972 novel perfectly describes the social pathology of western thought as the twentieth century winds down.
Lacking any grounding, or only very remotely so, to our primitive ancestors, modern Homo Sapiens have careened past the last vestiges of humanism into the inner self, and without any sense of shame or embarrassment, accepted a god(ess)less Darwinism, that at its core replaces former mating rituals (when procreation wasn't redundant), with infatuations based on obsessiveness, and destruction, resolving in the destruction of the self.
Reactions to the film internationally had been strong; it's release was delayed twice in the states, and an outright ban in London (because it would encourage unsafe driving!) caused a stir. It has been reported in the local press that the version we had in Prague was the only uncut one to be shown since the original premier in Cannes.
The rendering of Mr. Ballard's story is true to the impact and trajectory of Crash, and much more so than in Spielberg's butchering of his autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun ten years ago, and reveals the true nature of his work, as well as his private obsession with arcane detail.
Most of his fiction is very metaphorical, with a protagonist (of sorts) of whom's modern psyche is placed in juxtaposition with a radical environmental change (the polar ice caps melt diminishing the earth land mass to a third of it's present size, etc.), or ushered into a plausible and extreme future (a completely self-contained society living in a two hundred story high rise).
In Crash the character of Ballard himself enters a cult of accident aficionado's, ascending or descending, as it may be - rites of passage-wise, to the center of his own obsessive desires.
This discovering process takes place much the same way as one becomes initiated into a drug circle, or perhaps as one enters any enclosed community such as Microsoft or law enforcement. In the end he becomes the charismatic epicenter of the cult, his destructive passions making him the object of every character's eye.
Mr. Cronenberg's manner of scripting James' journey in a string of encounters, many of which end in fetish oriented sex scenes, could be construed as having been influenced by porno films. Those who will condemn the film as being obscene, dangerous, or immoral (they will in the US anyway), will miss that the director took great care to minimize nudity (even in the sexy bits), leave out the graphic gore and crass language.
What remains in the film is non-violent, with sex strictly on a consensual basis, and in it's own way exposes would-be censors as having dirtier thoughts in their own minds than what they actually saw on the screen, or more likely, they are troubled by what the film is saying.
At the least, Crash recognizes like other futuristic novels (Brave New World, 1984, etc.) that we are presently in a state of despair over the upcoming century, and takes us to the endgame of our own objectification of one another, and slams that hard against the most isolating invention of the twentieth century, the 'automobile', elucidating the way in which contemporary fantasies of destruction have replaced antiquated romantic ideals, in an age where sex has become an end in itself.
On another level, the hierarchical nature of obsession, as a representation of primacy in a society with so few strict rites-of-passage, and endless proclamations to stay young, reveals itself as a corollary of high capitalism itself, replacing our primitive drives with fantasies of control and power, even over that of our own deaths.
It is no accident that Ballard revolves his characters' fetishes around Hollywood legends and assassinated public figures, since 'they' are the possessions of a fantasizing and obsessive (not to mention impulsive and infantile) public that wishes it will live forever, and in acting accordingly undercuts any sense of a possible future.
We are in denial of the estrangement we are experiencing now, particularly in the US, where they are customarily uncomfortable with looking in the mirror, or for that matter, suffering a critique on their missionary way of life.
I predicted that Crash, like Kids before it, will stay in the theaters for at least half a year. The possibility that controversial American films can become long running hits here poses some questions. For one, does it mean that actually viable transcending art can still be made in the states?
But, moreover, how do Czech audiences feel when watching films that show them on the route their 'capitalistic triumph' is taking them? Whereas, many yanks I spoke to found themselves feeling either disturbed or dirty (titillated) after seeing Crash; the Czech's I spoke with found the film breathtakingly senseless, like the dark side of a car commercial.
I imagine the effects are magnified, if not inexplicable, or maybe it is seen strictly as a fantasy. Does having experienced the conclusion of the last albeit flawed attempt at a humanistic, or idealistic system (communism), regard the nightmarish as absurd, or is there a higher comfort zone for the truth?
Check out the movie, I'll expect some comments below.