Crash ★★★½

This one's all about the execution. Cronenberg rewires pay-cable softcore - all anonymous surfaces, languid pacing, and chintzy guitar - with help from a cast for whom Narcotized Overstimulation may as well be listed on their resumes under "special skills" and ends up with: a decent approximation of J.G. Ballard's novel, a baffling artifact of 90's arthouse provoc-auteurism, and one of the more convincing simulations of addiction ever captured on film.

It's convincing because he pursues his subject with the same singleminded fascination that the characters do: during Elias Koteas's first big scene, as he narrates a re-enactment of James Dean's fatal car accident for a small, rapt, and completely faceless crowd, Holly Hunter's Helen says simply "This is Vaughan's show," and from then on it absolutely is - the film bends to his will like a car wrapping itself around a telephone pole. He delivers the film's thesis to Spader's Ballard, first describing his focus as "the reshaping of the human body by technology" and then negating himself, insisting it's the "psychopathology" and the human responses to car crashes that really interest him. Cronenberg, for good and for ill, pushes past both of these ideas. Exploring either one would have sufficed and would have been in line with his preoccupations, but this is a film about addicts. Any intellectual processing of these ideas is inevitably going to take a backseat to the pursuit of the next fix, which is exactly what happens in CRASH - the film treats the characters like rats with wires connected to the brain's pleasure center, pressing the button again and again to the neglect of everything else, with the returns diminishing every time.

Because it's not about technology reshaping the body, it's (in true Cronenberg fashion) about technology enabling the body to attain what it already desires. Ballard and Catherine are already sex addicts when the film begins - the crash doesn't induce that need in them, it merely provides a different means of satiating it. (See the mechanized roof and windows slowly enclosing Catherine and Vaughan in the backseat, as though urging them to give into what they want.) Psychopathology can't satisfy, not the way that broken glass and dented metal and orifices suddenly opening up in side passenger doors do. Is this a close call or a failed attempt? "Maybe the next time, darling. Maybe the next time."

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