“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.