Thursday, September 15, 2016
Crash (David Cronenberg)
Sex in the new millennium
(an excerpt from an old article)
In David Cronenberg’s Crash sex takes on a radically different character altogether. The film--about a man named Jim Ballard (James Spader) who is involved in a car crash--is an encyclopedia of perversions involving car crashes and car-crash wounds and everything in between. Ballard makes love to the woman whose car he crashed into (having killed her husband in the process); he makes love inside the car he crashed in; he even makes love to the healed wound of a car-crash victim. Later, he meets others with the same obsessions and watches as they stage clandestine re-enactments of famous accidents (James Deans’ for example).
What does it all mean? Perhaps nothing--Ballard isn’t one for the obvious moral lesson--perhaps everything. Literature and film have already exposed the erotic link between man and technology--look at Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, practically a love poem to machines (featuring as the single most moving scene in Kubrick’s career the death of a computer); look at any magazine ad selling automobiles (the language can’t be more explicit). As Ballard writes it and Cronenberg directs it Crash finds sexual arousal in things even technologically obsessed human beings would ordinarily find unsexy, if not actually repulsive: chest bruises in the shape and radius of steering wheels; curved dashboards that crush kneecaps upon impact; windshields that shatter and tear, flaying the skin from a face. Ballard (the character not the writer, though one wonders) is aroused by the violence automobiles do to other automobiles and to the human anatomy. It’s the old man-versus-technology issue, but with a difference that separates ad copywriters from visionaries like Ballard (the writer not the character though again one wonders). Yes machines are sexy; so is death. Machinery that cause death it should follow are sexy as hell.
As Ballard wrote in the introduction, only the most extreme metaphor will do in an age of extremities. As we see while watching various media there is an escalation of sex and violence, a turning up of volume to catch our attention. Crash has its dial twisted all the way around; it’s written to catch the attention of those who are artistically and sensually desensitized. As for the film’s coldness, its lack of eroticism, don’t be too sure (or too smug); by “human beings,” we refer to the kind born in the past millenium. Ballard has written and Cronenberg directed pornography for the next version, in the process of evolving in the next thousand years.
Originally published in Menzone Magazine, Jan 2001