Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

James Spader in David Cronenberg's Crash
"Certainly not a film for the masses."

After all the hype over attempts to ban this film in Britain, it ended up with a far wider mainstream audience than would otherwise have been expected for what is essentially an intellectual art movie of necessarily limited appeal. This is a film from which considerable numbers of people have walked out of cinemas in disgust. Depending on who you talk to, it is frequently reckoned as either the most brilliant or most pathetic thing to hit our screens in years. In fact, it is neither.

The main problem with Crash, and a problem which has been exacerbated by all the fuss about sex, violence and car crashes, is that it is a slow-paced, sometimes deliberately remote piece of art which will leave many viewers cold. This problem is hardly a surprising one, given Cronenberg's frequently clinical directorial style (there are conscious echoes of Dead Ringers in the hospital scenes), and author J G Ballard's postmodernist, psychopathological conceptual work. Everything about this film has been precisely put together to create a machine as efficient as those with which it concerns itself, and ultimately as fallible. However, those prepared to sit through the less accessible first half of the film, as tension builds and characters are slowly, cleverly manoeuvred into blackly comic, tragic roles, will find their reward in the powerful second half wherein events build to extreme and unexpectedly moving conclusions.

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Crash tells the story of film director James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Unger), whose lonely marriage is sparked with new life when he is involved in a car crash and they both find themselves caught up in a world where such crashes are used as a focus for erotic arousal. This theme is actually an old one, and the viewer need not initially share the characters' fetish (or indeed have any interest in cars at all) to be drawn to their reflections on death as a fertilising experience. The tale is shot through with desperation as various crash victims, isolated by their trauma from the rest of the world (which pays scarcely any attention to their behaviour), attempt to reinvent love and meaning in their shattered lives.

This is certainly not a film for the masses, and I would not recommend it to those seeking simply entertainment; but if you want to see something that will really make you think, that will enable you to look at the world in a different way, then give Crash a try. There's an awful lot more traffic out there than there used to be.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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Crash packshot
After being caught up in a violent crash, a quiet man with a struggling marriage discovers a cult of car crash sex fetishists.
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Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg, based on the book by JG Ballard.

Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette

Year: 1996

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, UK

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