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September 24, 2005

Friday night

Billed by B.E. as a movie that will "rip your guts out but in a good way," I have to say that Crash left me disturbed and unsettled. It certainly didn't qualify as the previously requested light, non-gutwrenching drama, but then, B.E. wasn't privy to all the nuances of the movie negotiation.

The flick filosopher says:

"How the world can possibly be such a mess, such a complicated human disaster, and yet one film can clearly and simply cut through all the bullshit to lay bare the foundations of the mess is startling and mysterious to me, but that is the cinematic sorcery at the heart of Crash: it holds up a mirror to reality that is so incisive and so harshly honest that, at moments, it sears right through you..."

The South African port and Bart's chocolate ice cream were necessary accompaniments.

Posted by Steph at September 24, 2005 12:19 AM

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I've done some thinking about this movie (how can you not?). Even though it sucked me in from the beginning something was bothering me about it all along. On my way home I managed to put my finger on it. 'Crash' was probably the most politically conservative movie I've seen in recent times. It does two things to the viewer. First, it plunges us into a world we understand through a concept of 'racism'. Then, the language and narrative of 'racism' is supplanted with the language and narrative of 'the individual' (individual struggles, individual prejudices, fuck-ups, weaknesses etc.). We end up with the image of vulnerable individuals who either win or lose their fight with their own devilish predilections. We are to walk away from 'Crash' with a vague sense of hope: some of the characters make it out of the quagmire by realizing their dependence on their loved ones. The sole source of redemption in this movie is individual emotion.

The film manages to decompose racism as a monolithic block and to search for it presence in the everyday lives of individuals. But it has no interest in putting the pieces back together. What we are left with is an atomized world of individuality in which humans have nothing to do but to fight their isolated little battles. 'Crash' deconstructs but doesn't reconstruct - a move that is quite unexpected from a movie supercharged with morality. My final assessment: a good movie with bad politics.

Posted by: David at September 24, 2005 11:53 AM

Aha! The conservatism - yes David, I agree. The world depicted hinges on individual strategies for coping with pain, the two main modes being fear and anger. Affirmative action policies are cast alongside strict adherence to corporate policy as the impersonal "cause" of individual acts of violence. Humanity is redeemed only through acts of extreme heroism or mere happenstance. It is pure Hobbesianism.

Posted by: steph at September 25, 2005 6:15 AM

Then again - is it the intention of the director that we ponder the grim Hobbesian nature of the modern system? I suppose this is where an ironic interpretation might be possible. Is the challenge to force us to stare violence in the face and be pushed to either reconcile ourselves to deterministic fate or endeavor to generate different contingencies? The binary masks the complexity of establishing a place/space/ethic from which to respond.

Posted by: steph at September 25, 2005 10:13 AM

I agree that the dramatic framework in Crash is one which focuses on individual lives - individual emotions, individual choices, consequences for
individuals. So it didn't, for example, seek to explain why the D.A. (and a disproportionate number of people in power more generally) was white while the carjackers (and a disproportionate number of the disenfranchised more generally) were black to start with. Yet I personally would not fault it for that, because I'm not reading it as a movie that offers a comprehensive analysis and/or a solution to racism; for sure, if that were what I took Crash as, then its lack of attention to the characteristics and workings of structural inequalities, combined with its intense focus on individuals, would be disturbing to me.

The strength of Crash for me was showing how racism and racial tension are expressed and experienced in diverse - yet mostly quite mundane - interpersonal interactions which in themselves are generally not cataclysmic, but which continue to feed what Crash presents as a cycle of racism. In most films about racial conflict, there's generally some BIG event that precipitates the explosion between two groups (e.g. a building gets burned, a person gets beaten up/raped/killed etc.), but instead, Crash depicted a web of everyday encounters. While the interconnections between the characters might be criticized for being at least a little contrived, I appreciated the artifice for its dramatic reward

Posted by: B.E. c/o sjk at September 26, 2005 3:29 PM

I agree with the last comment above. I think that Crash, despite its limits, represents well the ongoing cycle of racism (prejudice and stereotyping) in this society through focusing on spontaneous interpersonal interactions (what do people say when they are under a lot of stress, when they forget about or don’t care about political correctness, etc), and the consequences such interactions bring about. For me, the overall result was unsettling – making me think, what would I do, what would I say, if I were in those situations? Crash certainly does not solve the problem of racism, but at least it compels questions by zooming on the issues that most films don’t even care (or dare?) to represent.

Posted by: Viera at September 26, 2005 8:34 PM

In my COMM 375, in the class period devoted to the readings on racist speech (Lawrence, “On racist speech,” CTRW, pp. 51-55 and Bok, “Protecting freedom of expression on the campus,” CTRW, pp. 56-58) I decided to show an excerpt from Crash. I showed the first 15 minutes, which was just enough to start a good class discussion. The student responses ranged from: "everyone is racist; racism will always exist; it is a good eye-opener; it is so real, like in everyday life; it makes you really think about racism; it makes you want to be nice; it shakes you, to the point of realizing that that's our everyday reality and in the end, you don't feel so disgusted by it; it's full of stereotypes, it offers no solution; there is no easy solution, we have to look for a solution together; it's one of few movies that shows racism as it is," etc. at first, we discussed the scenes we watched, but then some students started to talk about their own experiences (e.g., a female African-American student from Boston from an affluent family mentioned her observation that people always hold their bags when she walks outside of her apartment in Cambridge – in her own neighborhood, etc). Since we watched only 15 minutes, we couldn't really discuss the overall effect of the movie, but I think it worked well to open up a lively discussion on racism and then to transition to (a less lively) discussion of the assigned readings (on racist speech on campuses: regulation v. freedom of expression). Among other things, we also discussed the UMASS Code of Conduct that includes hate speech (one of my students did a research on the topic last semester, and offered interesting insights). I would be curious to know, Steph, if you decide to use this film in your classes -- it might be interesting to compare our notes.

Posted by: viera at October 29, 2005 8:51 PM

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