Scientists use a machine called a particle collider to smash atomic particles at a high speed to break them into smaller, more elementary parts, thus allowing study of even simpler, more basic parts of physical matter. “Crash” is like a “people collider”—thrusting diverse individuals together unexpectedly, shockingly and often violently—giving us a look at the elemental, more basic aspects of humanity.
“Crash” is like a “people collider”—thrusting diverse individuals together unexpectedly, shockingly and often violently—giving us a look at the elemental, more basic aspects of humanity. What we see is the torturous, contradictory way racism still haunts our society. Sometimes it’s on the surface, sometimes lurking in the shadows, but it’s still there.
Fresh off its Best Picture Oscar, “Crash,” which originally opened in May 2005, is returning to theaters.
Paul Haggis, getting his first chance to direct after writing “Million Dollar Baby,” serves his screenplay well, navigating confidently through an economic and ethnic slice of Los Angeles.
Working with a riveting ensemble cast, including Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and rapper-turned-actor Chris ”Ludacris” Bridges, Haggis builds his tale around a simple device—a multi-car pileup on the outskirts of L.A. Though no one is hurt, its cause–a dead body along the road—is the first piece of a jigsaw puzzle the film cleverly completes by telling the story of the previous 24 hours.
It’s not a murder mystery, but a study of how each character is connected and how race issues ultimately led to death on a lonely road.
As the story unfolds, we meet the people thrust into each other’s lives. Among them: a white, politically correct district attorney and his hyper wife; a black homicide detective trying to live down his street roots (and junkie mother); a Persian convenience owner who just bought a handgun to keep in his register; and a young Latino locksmith who just moved his family to a “better” neighborhood after a stray bullet shattered his young daughter’s bedroom.
The film escalates in tension combined with a strange, sad resignation as these and other characters become entangled. With each encounter, racial antagonism surfaces and we see glimpses into the real possibility of violence from any character. We realize the dead body at the movie’s beginning could be any of them, and so could the killer.
The film presents an uncompromising and likely a realistic examination of how race enters into almost everything we think, say or do. The friction here is not limited to the expected black/white issues but shares the wealth among all racial groups. It explores how racial suspicions and expectations can sometimes force us, almost against our will, to play stereotypical roles, even when logic and our own sense of morality urge another direction.
Racism attempts to strip people of their dignity, dehumanizes anyone who is “different,” and always cuts both ways—diminishing both offender and victim.
The highlight of the film comes when a white racist patrolman risks his life to pull a woman from a burning car—a black woman he had humiliated during a shockingly biased traffic stop earlier in the day. Wrenching emotions pass between them as tormentor becomes savior, mingling anger, fear, shame and a form of reconciliation that is more like a truce than forgiveness. The scene is a hopeful one though, hinting at a change in both hearts.
Gnawing at us at film’s end is how that scene and others show the great contradictions of human nature—how vile tendencies and self-sacrificing heroism can be found in the same person. The film is at its best when revealing such contradictions—not when attacking prejudice head on.
There are the two young black men who complain of racial stereotyping, and then reinforce it by car-jacking a white couple’s SUV. There’s the district attorney whose political correctness becomes a subliminal form of racism itself.
“Unlike other cities, in L.A., nobody touches you,” says the detective, played by Cheadle. “We miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just to feel something.”
When the puzzle comes together, we see just how much these characters did touch each other and how we are connected. Crash reveals human beings as the amazing, complex and conflicted creations we are—divine and profane, noble and flawed, beautiful but capable of sorrowful ugliness.
As the film ends, on an unusually cold night in L.A., the camera slowly pulls back and up to give us a “God’s eye view.” Snow begins to fall. I couldn’t help but think of one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”
MPAA Rating: R for language, nudity and violence.
Director and Writer: Paul Haggis
Cast: Graham: Don Cheadle; Jean: Sandra Bullock; Rick: Brendan Fraser; Officer Ryan: Matt Dillon.
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.