Monday, August 6, 2012

The Furious Grace of "Crash"

The Curious Souls group that I am part of is going to be watching and discussing the Oscar winning film, Crash, this coming Sunday evening. I've seen it several times on the big screen and DVD, and I still feel it is one of the more mesmerizing, gut-wrenching, and powerful movies of the past decade.

This multi-layered film starts with the lines “In L.A. nobody touches you…I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just to feel that touch,” which sets the stage for a series of around ten sub-plots that all seem to interconnect somehow by the end of the experience.

Canadian writer/director Paul Haggis (who has won two TV Emmy’s for writing, as well as the Oscar earlier this year for Best Screenplay for Million Dollar Baby), paints a complex, passionate expression of racism and prejudice, and how they intertwine in cause/effect to lead to sometimes tragic, and sometimes transcendent results. Los Angeles is the best setting for this to take place in a twenty-four hour period, as it is perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world at this time—certainly the most within the U.S.

Crash features exemplary performances from an ensemble as diverse as Sandra Bullock (as you’ve never seen her before), Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Ludacris, Thandie Norton, Brendan Frasier (in a rare serious role), Larenz Tate, and Ryan Phillipe (among others).  The story is both gritty and heartwarming, shocking and soothing, tragic and magical—and it will ring more truly in your heart than just about anything I can think of that has come out of Hollywood in years.

Lives of the characters collide in ways unpredictable, and it causes each of them to thoroughly face down their own moral dilemmas.  They need to cope with the consequences of decisions made, actions taken, or, in some cases, lack of resolve to do what was necessary.  Most of the characters go through a metamorphosis in the process.

Jean (Sandra Bullock) states at one point “I thought I would wake up and feel better today—but I’m still mad.  I’m angry all the time…and I don’t know why.”  This brooding sense of acrid bitterness can overtake us all if we allow it to.  Crash helps us face up to how and why some of this happens.

The underlying questions of the film are: Why has our society grown so cold to affection and respect? Why do we so often gravitate towards hatred and paranoia as the standard for communicating with fellow citizens?

They are addressed with a thoughtful blend of melodrama and realism in a nearly seamless way.  There is Truth with a capital T humming just below the surface of every scene.  It resonates clearly with everyone I know who has seen the film.  Just as in real life, we realize that none of us are simply evil people…we’re not just products of our environment, our families, and our frustrations.  But rather, deep down we all ache in quite human ways to connect with each other, to protect those whom we love, but are stunted by our own fears, and often by our accompanying anger.  All of this is done in the intersplicing of story and character development as brilliantly as Robert Altman has done in so many of his works over the years.

There are many scenes that will be etched in my subconscious for years:  Jean going ballistic on her husband (Brendan Frasier) about her distrust for a Mexican locksmith, as well as bitterness over being car-jacked; Anthony (Ludacris) decrying negative white stereotypes of blacks as he steals automobiles; Daniel (Michael Pena) and his angelic daughter in a scene under her bed when she is frightened by gunfire in the ‘hood, as well as the heart-pounding sequence when they are dealing with a gunpoint confrontation;  Matt Dillon’s Office Ryan has two very different confrontations with the same woman—one despicable and the other heroic. 

There are at least five scenes in this film that build and build in complexity, pathos, and intensity to a point where you have absolutely no idea how it is going to play out.  That’s the real strength of Crash, it is so realistic to life and the unpredictability of it all and how we react to what is thrust before us.  Allow yourself to be taken on the ride—but be forewarned: it’s not a pleasure ride. It is unrelenting in its ferocity and rage at times (especially the first half).  It will cause you to think over and over “how would I respond any differently?”

We do not live in a black and white world (that’s not just a racial assessment).  There are so many shades of grey. There are many compromises that we need to make along the way. But most of us know what is the right thing to do—and this film reminds us that we can indeed act justly if we stop to ponder how our actions are affecting others…as well as ourselves.

Crash is not a “nice” film.  Racism is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycles, and they also suffer because of it. But there is a palpable sense of hope and redemption behind the shattering of cultures and furious intolerance.

After sitting in silence for a minute once the credits were finished, one friend said, “Everyone needs to see this film.”  

Should you be interested in viewing and discussing Crash with our Curious Souls group this Sunday night (Aug.12th) at 6 PM at my house, let me know and I'll give you all the details.

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