Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Attack of the B-Movies: The allure of the ‘Crash’

The 1996 cult-hit has its own kind of attraction.

david cronenberg.jpeg

David Cronenberg is pictured in 2009.

In 1996, David Cronenberg released “Crash,” a film which transcended the characteristics of any preceding B-movie through its depiction of violence and sex. Inherently, every character in the film is an overstimulated, hypersexualized being coexisting in a crazy world of voyeurism and loneliness. In this vein, the film traces arousal and getting off through the sight of car collisions. Cronenberg's conscience functions here as a horny man looking to make a movie about sex, not romance. In this way, it truly is love at first crash.

In the film, James Ballard (James Spader) is a producer in an open marriage who seems bored by his intrinsically bland sex life with his current wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), with the exception of the times in which they describe their unfaithful tendencies. But, after a head-on car collision of his own, Ballard has a revelatory experience in which an injured woman from the wreckage and her bodily exposure to him provides the early makings of his car crash fetish. The film takes this off-kilter idea further as Helen, the woman from the crash, and James begin an affair.

“Crash” then turns into an interplayed pattern of disaster, sex, disaster, sex and repeat. It's absurdist on paper but captured in such a grimy, brazen fashion that's so unspeakably brilliant. Cronenberg manages to desensitize your mind to casualty, as a crash and inevitable injury becomes as routine as filling up a gas tank. This capacity to make an audience digest such tragic events so quickly is unheard of in any other film of this kind (not that there are any comparable ideas ever put on film).

Spader helms the sadomasochistic male facade effortlessly; he’s as attractive to the eye as he is perplexing. He embraces the discourse of James’ existence while making you fully realize his lust for women is a filler for the failure his life has become. He alludes to this tumble into peril with the essence of compulsive addiction and mental distress. It’s hard to have a concrete way of perceiving his actions.

Cronenberg and J.G. Ballard’s script is also dense with classic, over-the-top B-movie dialogue. This sort of writing tends to harp on the unrealistic chatter one would see more so from a poorly-developed play. The screenplay is also full of outrageous sentences about sex, such as the time Dr. Robert Vaughan (Elias Koteas), the scientist with an interest in Ballard’s fetish, says “the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event.” The usage of dialogue with an irrevocably contorted view of the world is how audiences are drawn to such pieces of cinema.

In the end, “Crash” comes through as a groundbreaking piece of crime-thriller madness. And although it sounds awkward to say you should flock to a film in which a man thrusts into a gash in another character's leg as if it were a vagina, it's important to realize sometimes cinema takes us to places we may not want to go or ever plan on going to. Sometimes, we simply have to embrace the unconventionality of our entertainment world. “Crash” is a staple in the B-movie shrine that splices sex, farcical characters and some of the most fascinating character interactions. It's just unforgettable.