Based on J.G. Ballard's novel, which I haven't read, David Cronenberg's Crash depicts the changes in the lives of cinematographer James Ballard (James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), an open minded couple with no boundaries on fidelity. The film opens with each having sex with another partner and shortly after telling each other their experience. If this seems twisted you haven't seen the rest of the film yet.
Their lives will change when James has a car crash and accidentally kills Helen Remington's (Holly Hunter) husband. He will meet her at the hospital and they will start having an affair. One night Helen will bring James to a show where three men will recreate with exact replicas the tragic car crash that killed film legend James Dean. But this is no fake, the cars are real and the crash too. This is where James meets Vaughan (Elias Koteas). During the "show" Vaughan presents and takes places into one of these cars. His excitation is strange and he touches the cars like if they were beautiful women. Later, in his workshop we understand that he is some kind of pornographer who takes pictures of accidents and he only fucks in his car. He's excited by the destruction of the cars and the "mise en scène" of these destructions. How the human bodies splatter and crash into the cars. His most important "tool" is his car, a big old convertible, that also symbolizes a phallic tool that rams into the other cars and penetrate their bodies. The paradox of this symbol stands when the married couple during a long sexual intercourse scene talk about Vaughan's car and also his penis and how they'd like to both have sex with him in his car.
We understand how Vaughan is twisted in the scene where he has almost brutal sex with Catherine, in his car for sure, while James drives and looks at them in the mirror. Vaughan likes to crash cars but also to bruise his girls. The scene after, where tender love is shown: James gently kisses Catherine's bruised body by the "passage" of Vaughan. It gives all the sense of the film, Vaughan see cars like he sees women he likes to give them good and he's not afraid to hurt them. He fantasizes on having sex in a crashed car, read woman, like Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) who has casts to support her fragile legs after a crash arranged by Vaughan.
In some way, Vaughan is a Cronenbergian character, he is fascinated by the destruction of the human body and the torn apart cars. Cronenberg has this relenting subject of the alteration of the human body. But James is more aroused by scars and bruises on the bodies of women but also men. The scene where he has sex with Gabrielle who has a huge vulva looking scar on her leg represents his fetishism.
First, Crash represents the alienation of the 20th century: the automobile. How our landscapes changed with the huge highways, illustrated here with Toronto's famous sixteen-lane roads and how our minds are alienated by traffic jams and long drives. Since the coming of the automobiles, people started to get stressed and obsessive. Moreover, the publicity of cars uses a lot sex to sell their products; it represents the phallus of a man and it gives him power, big car=big dick.
Amongst David Cronenberg's films, Crash is probably his more absolute and the one that really emphasizes on the concepts he wants to elaborate. The film is made without compromise and the many sex scenes are well acted and well directed. It's sometimes the links between them that misses a little. Although, the narrative is very clear and the message passes perfectly. Crash is probably a near masterpiece picture and it sure is a David Cronenberg picture.