Crash (2004)

At first glance, you may be fooled into thinking that Paul Haggis drama Crash is so sappy that you would have trouble extricating its drippy DVD from your hands in order to put it into your DVD player. It certainly seems that way from the outset. Don Cheadle’s opening monologue is truly as sappy as the movie gets.

I don’t think I personally would buy a DVD to watch it. For me, it was my usual late night TV session with the only thing that seemed sensible to watch. Thank God for that! Missing out on this one otherwise would be a shame.

The film has an entrancing multifaceted storyline with multi-ethnic characters intersecting with one another as they try to move through their lives under the pressures of being Black, White, Latino, Mexican, Pakistani, and one-third Indian/Irish in Los Angeles in America, the land of Whites (Excuse me but I’m not a racist!). All this happens in a 36-hour period which brings them together through car accidents, shootings, and carjacking. Crash leaves no type of racism unaddressed. Some characters are angry racists, others are subtle racists, some don’t know that they are racist and still others are trying to be racist. Most of the characters depicted in the film are racially prejudiced in some way and become involved in conflicts which force them to examine their own prejudices. Through these characters’ interactions, the film seeks to depict and examine not only racial tension, but also the distance between strangers in general. The film is shot mostly in the dark, but the darkness glows beautifully and there are plenty of city lights and atmosphere to boost the feeling of diversity in America. The strength of its location and aura give it a unique quality and make it unlikely that it could have taken place anywhere else.
There were a few scenes where I wondered whether the character acted out of racial conceit or just plain dimwittedness, like the one after Sandra Bullock has a gun pointed by a black skinned man in her face. She tells her husband, “If a white person sees two black men walking towards her and she walks in the other direction, she’s a racist right??” We’d all agree though Bullock in the movie calls that being scared. Ha! And still other events are so dire that the characters cast all racial differences aside in the pursuit of a common goal. A scene being where the one where Matt Dillon saves the same black woman he sexually harassed because she was Black under the excuse of imposing his official authority, from a car accident risking his own life.

Racism holds them together and pulls them apart. The individual vignettes concerning the characters would not even intersect if it were not for racism. Like racism itself, Crash isn’t a simple or easy movie. It isn’t even easy to follow. In fact, you might want to remember who is driving which car at the beginning of the film. There is nothing uplifting about the topic, but some of the stories about how people deal with racism are. While nobody is really likable, they all have problems that are identifiable and you will more than likely find somebody you have something in common with. Of course, it will probably be something you are not proud of, since Crash is, if anything, a focus on the negative part of us. The ultimate question that Crash deals with is not whether or not racism could be or should be destroyed. In fact, it seems to hold a rather pessimistic viewpoint on the subject. Rather, it is about how our racial differences, for better or worse, make us more human. Apparently, racism is something that we can never escape and that will always hover above our heads in some form or another. The final act is a great culmination of all the tensions that the movie introduces. As the climax of everyone’s story folds in and out of one another, the last act unveils a promise that mankind will always move on, despite its problems.

Don’t see Crash because Sandra Bullock is in it, because she barely is; or because you like Matt Dillon. The long list of million-dollar actors and actresses make very short appearances. In Crash, the plot does not revolve around any of the characters in the story. The different scenarios taking place in the movie form a mosaic of a society that is being torn apart by racial conflict in the most subtle manner. Personally I think Crash is easily the best movie Hollywood has made on racism this decade. Rent it for yourself or catch it on the small screen because I’m glad I did!

Tania Gupta

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