Tuesday, April 18, 2006

moving at the speed of life

Sometime back i had asked a friend to download David Cronenberg's 'Crash'- a movie about car accident victims grappling with reality by performing morbid sexual acts with each other (i can guess what a few of you might be thinking!). But instead he ended up downloading this year's Oscar winning 'Crash'. This turned out to be serendipitous as i ended up watching it quite a few times. What follows is my attempt at reviewing the movie.

‘Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other ‘- this is the tagline of Crash, an inter racial drama about the crisscrossing paths of people of different religions, creeds and sects yet citizens of the same country. Blacks and whites are the just a constellation, as we come to know; the galaxy encompasses Hispanics, Persians, African- Americans, Latinos and Koreans and so many more.

Paul Haggis having earned an Academy nomination for best adapted screenplay for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 moves from the aegis of Clint Eastwood and concocts a cinematic preparation that makes us have a relook at our take on ethnicity. Anyone from the Orient is dubbed a ‘Chinaman’, Persians are labeled Arabs, Mexicans are thought to be Black gangbangers- there is no end to the homogenization that we, as people, do to club diverse groups together and let our bias precede our judgement. The result is an intensely paranoid and insecure cauldron- Los Angeles, in this case.

Spaced over 36 hours and having coincidence as an imperative premise as the lives of people across races interlock, Crash, expounds on the relevance of tolerance and empathy in modern society. I presume a subtle message that the film puts across is this- the pursuers of the Great American Dream beware; reality is biting. It’s impossible to narrate the story solely because there are so many parallel threads running the reader will tie himself in knots in making sense of all of them. The movie, following parallel lines that converge at the end, can be broadly demarcated in 3 parts- the first where we are intrdouced to the charcters and their situations, the next where we see incidents which either shake their beliefs or prove their apprehensions to be real and the finale where there is a hint that the characters have somehow reconciled to their lot.

A black cop (Don Cheadle) has a missing brother, who has gone astray, to look for while he has to help his mother out of the trauma. He’s deep in an investigation where conscience beseeches him to pin the blame on a fellow Black officer but he would rather have charges against his brother dropped. A white cop, Matt Dillon, vents out his angst against all Black employees, who left his father high and dry, (when a pro-minority Bill was passed in Congress) by molesting the wife (Thandie Newton) of an African-American TV director on the sidewalk. The prim and proper wife (Sandra Bullock) of the DA of Los Angeles (Brendan Fraser) is paranoid about the Hispanic locksmith selling the keys to their house to his ‘gangbanger friends’.

The movie glitters with an ensemble cast with Terrence Howard and Matt Dillon leading the way. As the saviour of the lady from a car crash, whom he had molested a day ago his performance is gripping and it begs us to have a rethink of our opinions on people. Thandie Newton is refulgent as the proud wife of a law abiding Black citizen who hates to see him swallow his pride to escape the inequities in society. But, for me, the high point of the movie are two clips occurring at different times involving the Hispanic locksmith (Michael Pena) and his 5 year old daughter. They epitomize the very reason for which movies are made- to transport viewers to a different place and time and then to bring them back to their lives with a new perspective.

The movie has its flaws in a strong dependence on coincidence but the overall experience nullifies that feeling of it to be too fortuitous to be true. It asks nagging questions without being preachy and hopefully doles out a helping of empathy to us. In hindsight, Crash can be the best dissertation on inter-racial relations and ethnicity for your doctorate degree!

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