Eyebrows immediately raise upon hearing the premise of 1996’s Crash. A film about people getting aroused by car crashes? Really? Actually, really? Of course, and it’s from writer-director David Cronenberg. The film caused quite the sensation upon its release, garnering an NC-17 rating in the United States. While it wouldn’t be fair to say it’s tame today (as it most decidedly is not), perhaps it’s logical to say that given 2021’s Titane — another movie about odd relationships with cars — maybe tastes have finally caught up to Crash.
In a new introduction created for the film’s re-release, Cronenberg expresses a kind of mirth at how much Crash shocked initial audiences. He didn’t think it would, given that J.G. Ballard’s book on which it’s based was released in the 1970s. Although it’s had several high-profile home-video releases in the past, international audiences can experience the, uh, experience of Crash in Blu-ray thanks to Umbrella’s growing Beyond Genres sub-label.
The film follows James (James Spader) and Catherine Ballard (Deborah Kara Unger) as a married couple in a mutually open marriage — in which their own sexual relationship can’t achieve the same highs they reach outside of their marriage. While driving home from work one night, James collides with another car, killing the male passenger. The man’s wife, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), exposes her chest to James as she pulls off her seatbelt. When James meets Helen again while recovering in a hospital, it triggers an affair based on a moment of forbidden attraction and the couple’s journey into a subculture of car-crash reenactment (including a staged version of James Dean’s iconic wreck helmed by Elias Koteas’s Dr. Robert Vaughn). As Crash progresses, these characters take increasingly dangerous risks to elicit a deeper sexual response.
Despite strong acting from Spader, Hunter, Unger, Koteas and the rest of the cast, Crash is not an easy watch. Several acts, especially one involving a leg and some stitches, cause me to wince even writing about them. Still it wouldn’t be a Cronenberg film if he wasn’t deploying body horror in the name of questioning human nature. Crash is not a calming or relaxing film to watch, but it remains an essential part of Cronenberg’s oeuvre. It’s not quite 1986’s The Fly, but what is?
Once again, Umbrella has done a great job with this package. Aside from Cronenberg’s aforementioned introduction, there are a plethora of interviews to satisfy fans as well as the typical handsome slipcase that adorns the disc. The transfer is great as well, keeping the ’90s celluloid feel while ensuring crisp visuals — an irony not lost on me as I half-covered my eyes in some of the more gruesome moments. Crash is not for everyone, but those for whom it is something will find much to enjoy in Umbrella’s package.