February 7, 2006


I mentioned the other day that the Oscar nominations made me want to see the movie "Crash." It came in the mail yesterday, and I watched it last night. I thought it was quite good, constructed like "Magnolia," with a lot of characters and a script that connects their stories up with coincidences and a common theme. The theme in this case is race. You can tell from the first scene that you are seeing a heightened reality. I haven't read much of the criticism of this film, but if people are complaining that there actually isn't this much racism in real life, they are missing the point. This is a surreal depiction in which racism is concentrated everywhere. Everyone manifests racism, but then also a vulnerable human side. The characters' stories were nicely, complexly interwoven. I liked it -- even when it skewed melodramatic. I liked that you were kept on your toes about which characters to love or hate, to respect or revile.


PatCA said...

It was a good movie, flawed but good. (I wanted the movie to focus on Matt Dillon's well rounded character.) Its saving grace was that it pointed out something that no PC person dares to say: that racism is a human failing, not a solely white failing.

In California, racial tensions do approach the level of this movie. At times it explodes, as in the continuing race riots in the LA jail system. 90% of the 600/yr homicides in LA occur in South Central and are related to intra and inter racial gang wars. In my suburban school district, the Koreans broke away from the high school PTA and started a separate one. On and on, lots of tension.

Chris Althouse Cohen said...

I hated Crash. The first half is just a series of racist statements thrown together for shock value, and then most of the second half is pointless images of actors with serious expressions on their faces set to Enya-like pop music. There was nothing substantive that brought the characters' lives together beyond their mutual ability to mope. And there was far too much crying. Every time two people got into a remotely emotionally driven conversation, one or both of them would cry like they just found out they had cancer. Terrible movie.

ALH ipinions said...


I think you have it just right!

As a black man, I found the bedroom scene - where the wife berates her husband for not defending her against being "violated" by the white cop during that "routine" traffic stop - particularly resonant and provocative.

That was inspired writing and it reflected the many racist (and intra-racial) challenges that blacks (men especially) still face in America today. And, the actors rose to the occasion brilliantly.

Pete said...

I liked it, too, though I don't think it's quite Best Movie material. (IMHO, that would be Cinderella Man or Walk the Line, but that's the Conservative bias in me coming out.)

Christopher's criticisms are mis-placed and neatly dealt with by Ann's phrase of "heightened reality."

Ultimately a downer kind of a movie but a good downer, like The Weather Man, if that makes sense. I've yet to see Brokeback but of those nominated, I'd give it Best Picture. And I could see it winning if the big mo' for Brokeback has peaked too soon. My money is on Crash as a spoiler.

price said...

I gotta agree with CAC. I adore heightened reality in films, but I mostly found Crash to be poorly written and offensive. Maybe it's because I live in Los Angeles and they used real places (as when Ludacris refers to Westwood as "the whitest neighborhood"... in what realm is Westwood anywhere near a "white neighborhood"?) To me, this was all about being lectured by Paul Haggis--who himself has been a millionaire for decades--about racism among the commoners.

The Magnolia comparison is apt, but only in that Crash seems like a blatant rip-off of that movie. Complete with something strange falling from the sky at the end (in this case, snow). Crash, if anything, provides a really good excuse for Magnolia's 3-hour runtime. Most of its theatrics are forced and easily arrived at. Magnolia is easily more surreal than Crash, and handles its race politics in a more subtle way.

That said, the flaming car rescue is one of the best scenes I've seen in any film this year.

XWL said...

I believe the murder rate in South Los Angeles (it's un-PC to call it 'South Central' anymore) could be cut by 75% simply by legalizing drugs.

Without the money that comes with distributing illegal drugs, much of the reasons, and the deadly intent behind, these turf battles would evaporate.

Race may be an organizing principle of these gangs, but drug money is the fuel for the violence.

As far as Crash goes, it has been described by many as an Afterschool Special for adults (or if it hasn't been, it should have been), and nothing so far even the positive reviews have done anyhing to change my conception of the film.

Plus this will play over and over again on HBO or Showtime, so I can wait, they looooove them some 'message' movies.

And one last observation I sense a generational split amongst those who deride the film as a pointless 'very special episode' like film and those who embrace it as a serious study of real urban tensions.

(and not simply because mother and son have formed opposite opinions, younger reviewers have been less disposed to favor this film, also)

And Paul Haggis, well he penned a few 'very special episodes', himself.

and if you dare, click this link, (**warining** catchy lyrics at link **warning**)

The Grouchy Old Yorkie Lady said...

I loved Crash -- I wasn't able to get it out of my head for days afterwards.

I thought the point was not necessarily to paint a realistic picture of racism (in LA or anywhere else) but to demonstrate that racism, bigotry, or racial stereotyping, is something that we all do, on some level, whether we like to admit it or not. But that does not make it the sole defining element of someone's character.

It was also an interesting exploration of the ways some of the characters came to their respective bias -- some of which seemed completely understandable.

I thought the movie was thought-provoking and challenging. I'm glad to see it nominated -- it's certainly a better choice than the cowboy movie.

Cat said...

I didn't like crash either and I was really disappointed because I was excited to see it. I actually turned it off 45minutes into it. I would agree with CAC.

"Afterschool special" it is. Maybe it is a generational thing and perhaps Haggis didn't realize these "don't be predjudice" ASS's were popular (therefore educating so many of us in the 70's and beyond!) AND we had PSI's about it too. One PSI I recall is a boy fishing with his grandad and he mentions Josh his "jewish friend." Grandpa tells him he's predjudiced because if he weren't, Josh would just be his friend, not his Jewish friend. Every day.

So, Crash was one long, expensive PSI in my opinion, that I didn't need to see again.

Chris Althouse Cohen said...

I also don't see how the depictions of racism in Crash are supposed to convey the message that racism is within everyone. How does showing a cartoonish cop "molesting" a black woman in front of her husband convey that message? It seems like, if you wanted to show racism as a universal trait, you would have to show it on a subtle level. Completely overt, repulsive racism makes the exact opposite statement: that racism is obvious and over-the-top.

And if you're going to take this movie as a piece of surrealistic art solely because the racism is so up-front, by what standard does this movie qualify as GOOD surrealism? Apart from the fact that I don't think there are any real cues that we're supposed to take the movie as a fantasy or as surreal, it doesn't seem to fulfill any artistic standard for a surrealistic movie. There are a lot of much weirder and much better artistic depictions of racism in film and theatre. The surrealism explanation seems like an excuse for cheap writing and self-congratulatory acting.

Aspasia M. said...

I also agree with CAC. And I couldn't stand the music.

The acting was well done, but the script felt entirely contrived. ((Oh, look, now he's gonna go shoot the cute girl.)) After about 20 minutes in you can predict the script.

Randy said...


How does showing a cartoonish cop "molesting" a black woman in front of her husband convey that message?

The same way that a movie about two men living lives trying to be something they are not shows the truth about gay love in the new millenium. It doesn't.

PatCA said...

Thanks, ALH.

But, CAC, some racism is over the top. Maybe most of it. Can we legally change everyone's hearts, or should we just change behavior? I agree it does not deserve a nomination for Best Picture, but it boldy goes where no Hwood picture has gone before. There are no heroic white coaches or newspaper reporters "saving" a minority group, nor any fat Southern cops abusing them. It contains melodramatic, overwrought racial conflict between many ethnicities, and that rings true. What would a more subtle movie look like? Seriously, I'm interested. Maybe I just don't get it.

An Asian woman I know (brought up in post war Japan and then a prejudiced California) were together on an elevator. When we got off, she said, Oh did you smell that *other Asian*? You can smell them anywhere. A white friend married to a black man was hauled up on racism charges by two Hispanic employees. The (Hispanic) EEOC investigator cleared her and said, this never would have happened if you weren't married to a black man. That's California, and that's racism.

Dave said...

I don't think the movie exaggerates racism.

Pete said...


Umm, what about the black cop's careless reference to his paramour's Mexican family? Subtle enough?

reader_iam said...

Hmmmm. Very useful.

We have a category around here for movies that draw such opposing "reviews": Discount Only.

That means rent, not buy, and only when we get one of those video-store coupons in the mail.

That way, regardless of how we end up reviewing it, there's something to be happy about.

Ann Althouse said...

Chris: Look at the first minute of the movie. I feel that it conveys a sense of entering into a hyper-real world. There is something about the camera work and editing that made me feel this way. Maybe it's just gratuitously fancy, artsy bullshit, but that's the way I experienced it.

price said...

The photography and music were the most appealing part of Crash by far. But I could detect no evidence that there was any meaning behind the artistic decisions other than sheer pretension. Especially when coupled with the least subtle racial message since Birth of a Nation.

The thing is, racism is still a really big problem. But what makes it a problem is how nobody actually speaks it out loud. It's all in our glances, attitudes and fears. Somehow, showing professional or well-to-do people reflexively revert to epithets just comes across as comical or false. Any real message about racism is totally lost or devalued.

But seriously, that fiery car wreck!

Smilin' Jack said...

I feel that it conveys a sense of entering into a hyper-real world.

Hmmm..."a hyper-real world"...isn't that just another way of saying "an unreal world?"

Anyway, yet another movie about--yawn--racism. What's interesting to me about racism is how within our lifetimes it's become the ultimate evil. Fifty years ago the word didn't even exist; now it outranks all the Seven Deadlies. The fact is that people have always chosen to like or dislike other people for stupid or trivial reasons; they always will, and in my view have a perfect right to do so. Maybe just thinking that makes me a racist, but I have lots of character flaws, and my potential racism is pretty far down the list of the ones I worry about.

Slac said...

I don't need to see hyper-real racism.

I live in Milwaukee.

twwren said...

Racism in America is almost always framed in the context of afro americans vis a vis caucasian americans. Crash presents a broader, more realitic view (in my opinon) of this complex issue.

ChrisO said...

Try working in a non-professional job for a while, and the potential is there to witness racism that is breathtaking in its overtness. After spending most of my career in white collar jobs (10 years in Los Angeles included) where "nobody actually speaks it out loud" I found myself selling cars. I heard the word "nigger" more in the 2 1/2 years I sold cars than in the rest of my life. I also worked with sales managers that would express open hostility to Indians ("dots")and nobody liked dealing with Asians.

The kind of racism portrayed in Crash is certainly not "surreal" or "hyper-real." It's just real. When the subject of a movie is racism, you're going to see more story lines about racism than you will probably find in an average day. But the point of the movie was that racism is pervasive, and it generally has some kind of roots. The easy way is to have characters face up to their racism and change. But the movie showed us that most of the characters have a reason for their racism, as wrong as their reactions might be. There were no easy solutions, just as there aren't in real life. I liked the fact that Haggis didn't wrap up the storylines.

And I hear the arrogance of youth in the statements that all those after school specials already made the point that racism is bad. Not only was that not the point of the movie, but those after school specials don't exactly seem to have solved the problem, despite how evolved younger people always seem to think they are.

And by the way, I checked out Haggis on imdb.com. Has he really been a millionaire for decades?

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen Crash, but now I plan to.

It seems Crash is about Racism.

Liberals think Racism is bad and want you to know it. Conservatives think Racism is bad too, but Liberals don't believe them. Conservatives don't like to talk about Racism because they know, unlike Liberals, that there is really nothing you can do about it, other than referee.

Racism is a form of Tribalism. Tribalism, in one form or another, is part of Human Nature.

The question is: What forms are acceptable and what forms are unacceptable?

Drew said...

The movie struck a chord with me as it accurately characterized my experiences growing up in the inner-city: no one group has a monopoly on racism.

Ann Althouse said...

ChrisO: Have you see the movie? No matter how much racism is expressed in your vicinity, it's not as concentrated in that movie. Is everything that anyone ever talks about race? I'm not saying racism isn't real, but that the movie has created a hyper-real presentation of it for effect.

jult52 said...

I had no problem with the message conveyed (no, not conveyed -- relentlessly hammered into the audience's skulls) by "Crash." It's a worthwhile, important theme. What I had a problem with was the heavy-handedness, lack of nuance and thuddingly belabored treatment of the theme in the screenplay. What about respecting the audience's intelligence, without scene after scene of speechifying and blunt "point making"? Not a good movie.

Freeman Hunt said...

I agree with CAC except that I don't think the movie was terrible; I think it was mediocre. I listened to part of the director's commentary, the smugness of which could almost make me despise the movie, and I didn't get the sense that he was trying to create a hyper-real world.

I thought that the best scenes were the subtle ones like the scene between Terrence Howard and Tony Danza.

miklos rosza said...

I liked "Crash" starring James Spader directed by David Cronenberg a few years ago enough that I can't concentrate on another film with the same name.

But then, I also greatly liked Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch." (And "Videodrome," and his version of "The Fly.")

I know, there's no copyright on titles.

ChrisO said...


I have seen the movie. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough when I said "When the subject of a movie is racism, you're going to see more story lines about racism than you will probably find in an average day." My point was that a lot of racism is distilled into a relatively short time period, because that's what the movie is about. I don't think any of the examples of racism were over the top, there were just a lot of them.

To me it's similar to the reaction you hear to a lot of cop movies, when real police protest that the averge cop never discharges his service revolver, while movie cops are shooting at people left and right. Youy could call it "hyper-realism," but to me it's just the dramatic license you need to make the story go.