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Crash

Year: 1996
Production Co: Alliance Communication Corporation
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg/J G Ballard
Cast: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger

In one sense, this movie is a warning about the perils of sex on screen, and how the sex we have in reality is nothing so ordered, balletic or serious. Too many movies depict sex as some life-or-death act of holy rapture, as if all film directors are 14-year-old girls dreaming about the ethereal beauty of their first time.

Not that Cronenberg's alone, but the sex depicted in Crash was so over the top in its life-shattering reverence I found myself praying someone would sit on the horn and turn the whole thing into a comedy (most of the shagging takes place in cars).

Unfortunately, it isn't just the sex that's a farce, but the whole movie, the kind of psychosexual tosh Hollywood tries to shove down all our throats. Controversial because of its content on release, the real controversy is that Hollywood thinks sex is all about deathly stares and transformative acts of tragic devotion. There's never a smile, giggle or wobble in sight.

James Spader is a man who (I think) undergoes some psychological trauma after being involved in a fatal car accident, the result being that he can only get sexually excited by anything associated with car crashes. Along with the wife of his victim (Hunter), he finds his way to some kind of underground society led by a complete loon (Koteas – brilliant as always, just a ridiculous part) who seems to want the ultimate sexual thrill of serious injury or maybe even death in a car accident.

But everyone in this movie's screwed in the head – when we first meet Spader's hot wife she seems to have a fetish for planes that has something to do with the plot but is never really explained (clearly).

They go on some sort of psychological journey because of this nutjob – in his spare time, he stages famous car crashes with a stuntman friend like they're stageplays – and all shag each other with so much heavy-lidded seriousness and slowness it's as if their lives depend on it. I mean, heterosexual sex involves repeated movement, doesn't it? Maybe they all follow the tantric method (if that means sitting mostly still while staring into your partner's eyes like you want to punch them).

For all I can tell, the whole plot might be so simple you might be able to write it on a stamp – maybe Cronenberg just fills the move with so much mood he tricks you into thinking he's saying more than he is.

When they're not sleeping together slowly, the characters smoke purposefully slowly, talk slowly, occasionally grab enough other's crotches as a form of foreplay and never break into a smile. I'm sure Ballard and Cronenberg (who wrote the script) had a weighty point to make but it disappears right up its own arse before long.

Ironically it was tailor made for Cronenberg's early oeuvre being about the collision between bodies and machines, he's just too concerned with a hyper-stylised environment and mock-seriousness that gets as laughable as it does boring.

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