Film director James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) have a strange relationship where the sexual side of things is only satisfying if they can tell each other about their extra-marital conquests. So James tells Catherine about the script girl he enjoyed the company of while she tells him of the man she met at the aircraft hangar. Still they feel that there is something missing in their lives, until James is out on the highway and after dropping some papers onto the floor of his car by accident, he causes a crash that kills another man. But the really surprising thing is when the wife of the deceased exposes herself as she sits in the passenger seat...
Do you find it cold in here? Has someone left the freezer door open? No, it's just David Cronenberg's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's controversial novel Crash - it's cold as hell. After tackling one supposedly infilmable book in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, the auteur tried another one here, making one of the chilliest and most glacial erotic films ever to hit the screen. That's if anybody actually found much of it erotic: Cronenberg films the participants as if they were a new species of insect, although if its naysayers in the United Kingdom would have you believe when it was first released, it would have led to a spate of copycat crimes.
As if the idea of drivers merrily smashing their cars into each other's for kicks wasn't silly enough, but in the film and novel it was science fiction, and in real life hardly anybody went to see the film and society did not break down as a result, not that it would have anyway. However, there's no getting away from the straightfaced absurdity of the film, as where the book degenerates into page upon page of descriptions of twisted metal, Cronenberg had trouble meshing his sexual angle with his vehicle angle. This means plenty of sex scenes, usually in cars, but not much in the way of crashing.
There's very little joy in the film as James finds himself drawn into an underworld of car accident enthusiasts (well, maybe not accidents if they're deliberate), most of whom look as if they've just been to a funeral. Only Rosanna Arquette as the near-paralysed from the waist down Gabrielle adds a dash of glee to her portrayal, and the showroom sequence is a small oasis of humour in a very morose ninety minutes or so. The leader of the group is Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a photographer whose love of cars has driven (geddit?) him insane to the point where he recreates celebrity death crashes for a small audience, that's if the department of transport doesn't intervene first.
All the main characters have sex with each other at some point, but the idea that it's the vehicles setting them off remains a nebulous one. The sexualisation of cars sounds like a Freudian concept, with people taking their passion for driving too far and letting it invade their emotional lives, but here emotions barely register. Actually, as depicted here the fetishists might as well be a bunch of trainspotters who happen to shag one another - the film never pins down its weirdo notion and at times simply comes across as a soft porn film for the emotion-free. But after a while a strange melancholy begins to make itself apparent, whether it's due to Howard Shore's superb music score with its stark, lonely, electric guitar driven sound or the haunted playing of the cast, and finally the film takes on a tragic air of people so starved of stimulation, of love, that they resort to extremes to feel anything at all.
Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.
The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.