Movie Information

In Brief: David Cronenberg's supremely disturbing film -- based on J.G. Ballard's novel -- is about a sub-culture that derives sexual kicks from car wrecks. Occasionally, it topples over into unintended laughs, but even those are slightly nervous. Compelling, but very much not for everyone.
Genre: Sexual Fetish Horror
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Elias Koteas
Rated: NC-17

No, this isn’t Paul Haggis’ cozy little Oscar-usurper from 2005 that boldly went on record to say that racism is bad. This is David Cronenberg’s anything but cozy, NC-17 rated film from 1997 about car wrecks and sexuality. It is one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever seen. Watching it again for this review reminded me exactly why I haven’t watched it in about 15 years—it really is that disturbing. I haven’t read the J.G. Ballard novel on which it’s based, nor am I inclined to. The movie is quite enough. In many respects, this is the ultimate in Cronenberg’s “body horror” films, because it doesn’t trade in the fantastic. Apart from the somewhat unusual mindset of people becoming sexually aroused by car crashes, the things that happen in Crash—and the changes we see in the human body—are generally plausible. This, I suspect, is what makes it more unsettling than Cronenberg’s more fantasticated work. In fact, in some respects, its strange medical devices, body-braces and faux vaginas seem more like David Lynch than Cronenberg—and the film has a Lynchian creepiness to it. The story is pretty straightforward: James Ballard (James Spader) is in a car crash with Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) that kills her husband (an event that seems to mean nothing to her). This connection leads them into a kind of affair, which in turn leads to Ballard being pulled into this sub-world of car-crash fetishists. The events resulting from this are anything but straightforward. It’s weird, kinky and unsettling. What keeps it from entirely working is that fine line between disturbing and unintentionally funny—and sometimes Cronenberg crosses it. The meaning of it all can be debated for days. Is it about sex, death, our car culture, addiction? I’m saying yes. And maybe more.

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Crash at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 18, at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332,


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Crash

  1. Me

    I remember watching this with some friends when i was about 14, i think we just rented it for the sex. I remember think it was the weirdest film ever. Since then ive became acquainted with Ballard.

  2. Xanadon't

    Strange-ass cinematic treatment of obsession/addiction but one I found really fascinating. I’d take it over, say, Requiem for a Dream any day.

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