Features Live Action Movies


Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m


This review of the UK DVD was originally published in What DVD. See also my review for the Arts Centre Group’s member’s newsletter.

Sold as a sex and car crash (and by implication action) movie, Crash is in reality something very different: intelligent, grown-up science fiction. The former description being an easy sell, especially with the added (ridiculous) controversy surrounding the film’s (eventual) UK release, the inevitable resultant popcorn sensation‑seeking mass audience was largely disappointed.

That said, for those viewers prepared to engage brain, deal with tough subject matter and go the distance, it’s a masterpiece. But if you’re someone to whom the concept of sex scene as narrative device sounds too much like hard work, you probably shouldn’t touch it.

On the other hand, admirers of director Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ) or novelist J.G.Ballard (Empire of the Sun) will appreciate the film’s uncompromising vision. Although Crash is not especially unnerving by Cronenberg standards, it’s extremely shocking by those of mainstream movies and has the potential to confuse or overwhelm an average audience.

While it brims with sex scenes, they’re not particularly arousing in tone being close to the emotionally cold experience of watching laboratory experiments. Which is exactly where the film is at. People spend large amounts of time in cars. People have sex. Could these two bodily functions somehow grow or fuse together to create a new form of human existence…a new flesh…?

Commercials director James Ballard (a revelatory James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) fuel their increasingly empty relationship via sexual escapades with other partners about which they keep each other informed. Then, driving through the spaghettified mass of concrete over- and underpasses that embrace and penetrate Toronto, Ballard is involved in a car crash which hospitalises him and kills the husband of oncoming car’s likewise traumatised Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), with whom Ballard subsequently shares time, conversation and bodily fluids.

She introduces him to Vaughn (Elias Koteas), who stages famous car crashes (like the one that killed James Dean), leads a group of like-minded disciples and is engaged in a strange but related project.

Ballard’s book was set in London’s roads around Heathrow airport, but Cronenberg’s translation to his native Toronto – all high rise concrete interiors and intertwining sections of heavily used roadway – makes perfect sense. Vaughn’s crash stagings aside, the cars are all ordinary family-type vehicles you would drive to work or the cinema. The crashes, as in real life, are sudden, visceral, painful, loud and over in a moment.

The surprisingly un-arousing sex (and there’s lots of it) is heavily fetished from the opening palm on the metal surface of a grounded aircraft onwards and covers every variety, becoming increasingly perverse as the movie proceeds to its conclusion where carefully ramming your car into the one in front substitutes as a form of foreplay for the impending orgasm of the (willingly engineered) crash itself. Aside from the unnerved and very ordinary car showroom salesman in Chapter 17, the characters are so far out from normal, everyday existence that the viewer doesn’t relate to them, observing them with a horrified fascination as s/he might laboratory rats.


Disc Quality

Dolby Surround (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Picture 1.85:1, Anamorphic

Spanish track is in 5.1 whereas English one isn’t. Crisp transfer – night scenes, wet roads, twisted metal, lying glass and flesh (including perverse leg orifices) look good. However, the aspect ratio’s wrong: Cronenberg composed this at 1.66:1.

Special Features

Criterion’s laserdisc has rafters of stuff – commentary, behind-the-scenes footage and two trailers. New Line’s R1 DVD has both the uncut version and the Blockbuster Video version with ten minutes of cuts (though why would anyone want the latter?). Leaving aside its uninspiring, static menu designs, Columbia’s R2 DVD has only a trailer (and one with subtitles burned into the print at that). This is appalling considering Crash is such a landmark film and Columbia’s discs normally set the benchmark.


This review of the UK DVD was originally published in What DVD. See also my review for the Arts Centre Group’s member’s newsletter.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *