Guest post written by Erin Parks.
We are not alone. Our lives are filled with people, places, and things that come together in unexpected ways. Sometimes we are violently brought to understanding - a gun fired, a tumble down the stairs, or a car crash, for example. Writer and director Paul Haggis orchestrates the lives of eleven characters in modern day Los Angeles, California, whose daily lives are altered by various altercations, highlighted with racial tension.
The story lines are all carefully introduced, and, throughout the film, display a range of emotions and attitudes about how we deal with race in America. The movie opens with the title remark from Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) about how we "crash" into one another sometime because we miss human connection.
His Latina girlfriend simply shakes her head then gets out of the confront the Asian woman who ran into her. As the police attempts to mediate the argument, which quickly turns down "Stereotypes Street" - Asians can't drive, all Latino people are Mexican, etc.- the tone is set. Crash is a dark exploration into what we think when we are angry and afraid, but would not dare utter out loud. After Det. Graham sees something familiar on a nearby crime scene, the film flashes back to yesterday.
We are then introduced to a Persian store owner buying a gun for protection of his shop. He is mistaken for Arab when his daughter translates the gun seller's questions about bullets. Director Haggis continues to turn up the flame - the White District Attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) are car jacked by two Black men and Det. Waters arrives on a police scene where a Black off-duty cop has been shot by a White officer.
Throughout the film the characters throw out what they believe to be facts when it comes to the races, at times the most outrageous statements are said very cooly. For example, Det. Waters also calls his girlfriend Mexican, who briefly explains that she is of Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian parentage.
Shortly after, the DA's wife explodes about having her locks changed by a man she has assumed to be a "gang banger." We are introduced to a successful Black couple on Ventura Blvd. who get pulled over, and the woman is sexually assaulted by one of the known racist officers of the LAPD (played by Matt Dillon). His young partner is a fearful witness. Later when he asks to be reassigned, Lt. Dixon admits that he cannot remove the offensive officer because the LAPD is a racist system and refuses to loosen his position, basically as the H.N.I.C. He offers an embarrassing, albeit reasonable option for reassignment: uncontrollable flatulence.
The movie circles around the intertwined lives like a delicate dance. Most interestingly, none of them know how they will "crash" into each other until it violently happens. All along the scenarios gently beg the question, "What would you do?" Even though the viewer is the spectator, most of the dialogue is reactionary. We see the characters change and attitudes shift as they are brought together again, but as needed allies.
This shift in the film that occurs shows that we are all just skin, blood, and bones, that we may all be able to "just get along." It is hope. We see the racist officer save the Black woman (Thandie Newton) he previously assaulted from an overturned vehicle about to explode and the shop owner who shoots a young girl but does not harm her because the gun is full of blanks. Even after we discover that what Det. Waters saw at the beginning of the crime scene was his brother fatally shot (Larenz Tate), that is not where the film ends. A group of Thai captives are released, and there is another car crash.
Crash does not tell you how to think or feel. It presents characters who are blunt, who turn the other cheek, are both ignorant and educated, and all of the complicated things people are. Plainly we can see that much of the anger is triggered by fear. Specifically, in the storyline of the shop owner who has everything on the line -his family and his business. Even at his best, it his daughter who protects him from himself. We see that racism is never as simple as racial slurs, and it is so deep that it ultimately affects the person and prevents them from living happy, healthy lives.
Director Paul Haggis does a great job with the film in letting the audience think for themselves, and potentially see themselves in one of the story lines. Most interesting to me is the car jacker Anthony (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), who is the ultimate contradiction. He leads a life of crime, but is offended by White people who stereotype people of color as violent criminals. He claims that he only robs from White people, painting himself as a vigilante, and calls Hip-hop the music of the oppressor. His actions, however, leave us to wonder - is this self-fulfilling prophecy? Does he commit crime because that is all anyone will believe he does, or because of some real issue within himself? His flashes of intelligence would lead us to believe the latter.
In contrast, the other half of the car-jacking duo, Peter Waters, has no ill-will towards anyone. He seemingly feels that we do what's necessary to survive, and yet he is fatally shot by the young officer off duty (Ryan Phillippe), because he recognized him as a car jacker and thought he had a gun. The young officer then sees that he was trying to show him the idol he carried, same as on Officer Hansen's dash. The twist of fate for both the car jackers illustrates how second chances are given to some, but not all, and is not necessarily based on race. In fact, making race even more complicated in the real world are politics and money.
No matter how hard we try or how easy it may seem, how people get along based on race does not fit into a neat box. Further, even when race is one day no longer an issue, something else may be. If nothing else, Crash screams to us that we are human - humans make mistakes, humans compete, and humans react violently when afraid. What destroys us can also be what binds. Meditating on all the contradictions may drive you mad, but it is a what makes our connections strong, what makes us want to "crash" into someone else.
Erin Parks is a writer and digital media professional originally from Athens, Georgia. She has worked on film and television promo projects for HBO, TVLand, and NBC Sports. Parks loves to stay abreast of current events and tech news. You may find more of her work on herdiamondback.com, a site with a mission to redefine feminism. Connect with Erin Parks on Twitter @eparksm.