Auto Erotica: David Cronenberg’s CRASH

The first film I ever saw by David Cronenberg was his reimagining of the sci fi film The Fly. I knew after that visceral experience he was an incredibly daring filmmaker with a dark, thought provoking style all his own. 10 years later he made CRASH (1996), based on the novel by J.G. Ballard which took ideas he had previously explored to a new psycho-sexual level.

James Spader plays James Ballard a TV director who is in an open marriage with his wife Catherine (Debra Kara Unger). The two both have unemotional affairs then tell each other about them to heighten their own lovemaking. One night while driving on the highway Ballard becomes distracted by something he’s reading, jumps a median and gets in a head on collision with another car. The driver is thrown through Ballard’s windshield and killed, while the passenger (his wife) Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) survives and oddly reveals her naked breast to Ballard who is still conscious. While Ballard is recuperating in the hospital, Catherine pleasures him as she sensually describes the car wreckage. Later on when he’s exercising his leg by walking through the halls, he sees Dr. Remington and is approached by a man (Elias Koteas) who inspects his wound.

Following his discharge from the hospital James goes the impound where his totaled car is and encounters Helen there. The two end up having passionate sex in his car then go to see a performance art show starring Vaughan the same man he met at the hospital. It is a live re-creation of James Dean’s tragic car crash in 1955. Vaughan seems to be entranced as he describes the events of that day to the audience. The piece ends with both Vaughan and his co-star/friend Seagrave (Peter MacNeill) being mildly wounded after the crash. When the local authorities arrive and break up the underground show, Vaughn, Helen, James and Seagrave drive back his rundown home. This is where Ballard is introduced to a strange underground subculture of people whose fetish is sexual stimulation from car crashes. Vaughan has an extensive library of videos and photo albums that he pours through and gets off on. His theory is that “the car crash is a fertilizing rather than destructive event, a liberation of sexual energy” that can’t be done to such an extreme degree in any other way.

David Cronenberg who was best known for his sci-fi films like Shivers, Scanners and Videodrome puts a spin on the disturbing body horror and instead of evoking fears, the wreckages, braces, scars, wounds and even tattoos are turned into sexual imagery and metaphors. Where the film gets its real energy from is the many bizarre twists it puts on the steamy thrillers we’ve all seen before. Ballard’s controversial subject matter and Cronenberg’s own interests and sensibilities seemed to fit perfectly together.

Crash is an undeniably captivating film experience, one that pulls you into its world through acts of eroticism then takes you down another road where sex and technology merge. It is about control, obsessions and taboos, going beyond the limits and becoming endangered and/or enlightened by how one responds to them. I think what Crash succeeds in doing most amazingly is the way it shows us the exhilleration and danger of human frailties through both psychological and physical trauma. It is one of David Cronenberg’s finest works of visionary cinema.

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Peter

Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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