David Cronenberg makes confronting, uncomfortable films which explore sexuality and the psychology of perversity; Crash is no exception, but in the manner of Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and The Naked Lunch, Crash is a cerebral narrative with no gratuitous provocation or titillation, the way some of its critics accused.
Based on JG Ballard’s 1973 novel of the same title, Crash explores jaded human sexuality diverted into the fetish of the automobile, and a macabre sexual obsession with damaged human flesh, and perhaps even the thanatos complex.
The story revolves around the tireless but unfulfilled quest by James and Catherine Ballard (Spader and Unger) for satisfying sex. After a serious car accident, James Ballard meets Vaughan (Kotias), a car crash obsessive, and Helen Remington (Hunter), the passenger in the car Ballard collided with. Together these two characters draw Ballard and his wife into a morbid fantasy world of celebrity car crash recreations and the bizarre injury fetish which is central to the film’s development of James Ballard’s quest for seaxual fulfillment.
Cronenberg uses harsh gray-blue lighting and subdued colours to create a cool atmosphere which sets the tone for the intimate but impersonal interactions between his characters. It is this impersonal nature which I found more disturbing than anything else about the film: the casual, emotionally detached coldness of people who seem to have no sentimental love for anything, not even themselves.