“Crash” (2004) is a powerful portrayal of contemporary racism. Directed by Paul Haggis and set in contemporary Los Angeles, the film is reminiscent of Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon” (1991) and should not be confused with an earlier “Crash” (1996) based on the book by J.G. Ballard. “Crash” follows an impressive cast of characters through a tightly woven story about how the slightest tendency to judge others by their color, religion, or culture, can have a disastrous impact.
The most powerful scene is the actual crash. Ordinarily when I cry watching a film, I know somewhere inside the reason why I’m so moved but, in this case, a rising tide of intricate emotions overwhelmed me. Other important scenes include the surprise carjacking, the angel and the bullet, and the rookie cop picking up a hitchhiker.
A Latino friend points out that the film tends to polarize black-white conflict, leaving Latinos less visible than one would expect in Los Angeles.
However, it is no coincidence that “Crash” is picking up a lot of awards and nominations along with Ang Lee’s and Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). Both films describe the horrifying impacts of prejudice and intolerance, an issue of extreme importance in today’s society. A subtle tension in both films is whether they intend to portray the enmeshment of hate and ignorance in American culture simply to reflect and bring awareness, or as an indictment whose remedy is both personal and societal introspection leading to creative change.
A friend on a private email list asked me why I thought “Bareback Mountain,” (if not available at the previous link, try “Bareback Mountain” instead) the parody of Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” was funny, rather than an affront to the queer community. My answer:
While I thought Brokeback was an excellent film, it can be read in various ways by various audiences. One way to read the film is as a reinforcement of the “shocking” “lifestyle” of homosexuality and the inevitable destruction of those who are foolish enough to participate in it. I suspect that there are large segments of U.S. society that will walk away from Brokeback with that take on the film if they ever chance to see it. As other reviews have pointed out, it’s curious that the hetero sex is so much more openly filmed that the homo sex for example. Perhaps that’s why I felt profoundly depressed by the film.
The reason that the Bareback parody is funny is because it ridicules a reading of Brokeback in which homosexuality is as “shocking” and “deviant” as bestiality. It uses a similar meme of the cowboy (or shephard or whatever) so emotionally isolated he can only express his secret longings in physical isolation and in constant fear of discovery.
The shadow puppet sequences of physical intimacy are there because showing the actual act would be far too “disturbing” and “inappropriate”, unlike normative male-female sex. And the scenes of him turning away from his wife in bed (and presumably family as in Brokeback), his wife wielding the humungous dildo and recounting the visit from animal services, show just how dangerous such deviance can be to the traditional family structure.
I certainly don’t believe it’s the intent of the parody to compare homosexuality to bestiality in a serious way, but to tease out the themes of Brokeback that lead to a regressive and rather disturbing reading of it, unfortunately a reading that much of the movie-watching public may walk away with. The parody is, somewhat paradoxically, the kick in the butt that Brokeback needs for me to walk away from both films feeling integrated as a queer with a chance of living as a respected human being in a diverse and accepting society.
I won’t even begin to delve into the morality of such relations with animals… that’s a topic for another day.
Another person quoted on the list who saw the parody quipped that it explored “the Love that dare not speak its neighm.”