Sunday, August 30, 2009
"Crash" (director: David Cronenberg)
One can refer to Freud himself, who postulated that "sex and death are inexorably linked". An old French metaphor considers orgasm itself as "la petite mort", or "the little death". This 1996 film by lauded director Cronenberg, based on a controversial and legendary short story by science fiction legend J.G. Ballard, explores this relationship with intelligence and cold, steely, monochromatic non-emotion. Translating this tale to the big screen was unlikely, and considered improbable -- even impossible -- but Cronenberg is no stranger to controversial and difficult filmmaking (witness his translation of William S. Burroughs' surreal/drug hallucination "Naked Lunch").
In this tale, James Spader portrays James Ballard (ha), a film director who is slowly lured into a small fetish group who fantasize and recreate disfiguring auto-accidents, and famous fatalities -- for sexual release. Sometimes it's at a premium cost, though, with limbs and lives to pay for their "fun". The psychopathology of this whole concept seems to point at the behavioral mutation only possible in modern society. The fetishization of technology has bled into a sexual behavior, the thrill of metal meeting flesh. "Feel the crashing steel, feel the steering wheel", so proclaimed influential early electronic classic "Warm Leatherette", by future Mute Records headmaster Daniel Miller's one-off project, The Normal, which was certainly inspired by this story. Indeed.
At the time, Cronenberg's "Crash" was (barely) given an R rating (actually it was given the kiss-of-death NC-17), due to some seriously mature themes, and it got quite a bit of slack for it's sheer gall and near-pornographic content (most of which is implied rather than depicted, though, honestly) . It's definitely a polarizing film, and not one that can be written off easily. Perhaps it's not one of Cronenberg's finest works (where to begin? So many...), but this movie certainly stands up to repeat viewings and continues to put forth some disturbing, and still-relevant, questions.