Saturday, May 14, 2005

In the event of a CRASH...

When we're moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.

Crash is the first true cinematic masterpiece of the year. It is a film that speaks with a staggering prophetic voice. It is a film of devastating lyricism and haunting power. It is a film of hushed impact and explosive subtlety. It is a film of breathtaking intelligence--hyper-articulate and throbbing with sumptuous compassion. It is, easily, the strongest American film in years. When it was over, I sat in my chair, shell-shocked in stunned silence, trying to sort out my tangled emotions.

It is a film, I cannot stress enough, that you must see.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the Academy-Award winning screenwriter of last year's Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby, Crash is a story of lives running parallel, losing control, colliding, and careening away from one another again. The film is an intimate tapestry of interweaving lives defined, one way or another, by racism. Whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Iranians, cops and criminals, the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and powerless—all are victims of racism; all are guilty of it. No one is safe. Races skewer each other and then themselves. None are wholly good; none are wholly bad.

One day we are heroes and the next we are villains—perhaps we are both in the very same day.

And yet, Crash refuses to deal in stereotypes. Even as it sets up its characters and we quickly understand them and their places in this world, the film shatters those pre-conceived notions with a startling degree of cinematic autonomy and free-will. One character tells another, “You think you know who you are. You have no idea.” Neither does the audience. Neither do the characters themselves, because so much of the trajectory of this movie is dependent on the chance accidents that bring these people into one another's lives.

Using coincidence, serendipity, and even luck, Crash presents stories showing the ways in which all of us—all of us—leap to conclusions based simply on race, presuming that even the best of us, at the worst of times, feel prejudice and resentment toward members of other groups. Sometimes, racism is just a mask, worn as an excuse for anger or a shield for pain. The movie examines those feelings and starkly presents their consequences. Sometimes those presuppositions lead to bloodshed. Sometimes they lead to enlightenment and epiphany. They always lead to a changed life.

The one thing that occurs consistently in every encounter the film presents is that peoples' assumptions prevent them from seeing the actual person standing before them. They take moments at face value, forgetting that all incidents have steps that led the person there—steps which they may not have ordered or steps that represent a transitory and atypical stumble. No one knows the whole story. All have fallen short and are in desperate need of lavish grace.

The ensemble cast is extraordinary. The actors deftly sidestep clichés and give their character’s authentic individuality. These are people who say exactly what they are thinking. Without the filters of political correctness, the audience is able to peel back the layers of a life, and thanks to the omniscience of film, discover that things—and people—are rarely what they seem.

I once read an account of a nun who lived a simple philosophy: be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a tremendous and unseen battle. The characters in Crash are all fighting tremendous battles and all are so caught up in their own pain that they cannot see that they are all, each of them, walking wounded. Instead of drawing closer to each other in their moments of greatest need, they lash out and inflict even greater agony.

Haggis has made a film that has less in common with modern storytelling and more in common with ancient parables. Crash is an allegory, trading a certain amount of believable realism for a greater share of wisdom and insight. Is that not, after all, the greater reality?

“It's the sense of touch,” Don Cheadle's Det. Graham muses in the opening seconds of the film. “In any real city, you walk, you brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. It's the sense of touch. I think we miss that sense of touch so much we crash into each other just so we can feel something.”

In a twisted sort of morbidity, the film seems to suggest that we are so hungry for human contact, so yearning to feel the touch of another human being, so split and broken from the rest of our world, that we are willing to get that contact any way possible, even violently.

If hope resides in this film—and it does—it lies in the changed lives of the characters. The characters learn the lessons they have earned by their behavior. They learn about their world; they learn far more about themselves. They are better people for the lessons, and, having watched them, so are we. Anyone seeing Crash is likely to be moved to have a little more empathy and compassion for those not like themselves. If not, they need to make a u-turn, return to the theater, and prepare for impact.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw Crash last night – how great is it?

Vickie Reddy

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marty and I saw Crash, and we were both just sitting in silenceafter the movie for the longest time. What a powerful film!! It continues to haunt!


1:25 PM  

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