12 March 2006


The movie "Crash", according to the motion picture Academy, was the best picture in the U.S. in its year. I hope they were wrong (although it definitely did deserve the editing award that it won), although I can't state where it ranks among the five nominees because, as a parent of young kids, my movie experiences tilts strongly towards rated G fare.

Now, I do have to give the Academy props for recognizing a movie with car chases in it. This is one of my important criteria for selecting movies. But, somehow, the Academy tends not to agree. Admittedly, not every movie can have a car chase. A car chase along the decks of the Titanic would have been melodramatic. And, no, Braveheart would not have been enhanced by a car chase. But, any movie with a contemporary terrestrial setting ought to have one and Crash does (more than once, although both are short) so it does pass the car chase test. Indeed, it even has an explosion, which is a definite plus.

But, a description of the movie by someone on the accompanying DVD featurette aptly sums up what kind of movie this is, it is "a fable, a morality play." I personally, am not a fan of heavy handed didactic entertainment offerings. There is nothing wrong with having a point. Spike Lee made a point about racial tension in urban America when he filmed his 1989 masterpiece "Do The Right Thing", without having to put the moral of the story in artificially. "Crash" has many scenes which individually achieved the same end, but while the trees were often artfully executed, the forest was contrived to fit the moral of the story.

In the 1997 Jim Carrey movie "Liar, Liar" that features a lawyer who is magically forced to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, we are given permission to believe that someone would actually dispense with all subtly and discretion in every day life. The characters in "Crash" act the same way when they talk about race, with no such magical dispensation (indeed, pushing a little further into magical realism would, ironically, have made the movie's numerous coincidences and contrived linkages more plausible).

Admittedly, the movie is an effort to focus on moments in life when racial tribalism and prejudice drives decisions people make in their lives, in real ways, but the crafters intentionally (we learn from the featurette) eschew subtly, despite the fact that the corrosive and pervasive feature of the way race is talked about in American life is its furtiveness and indirectness. Despite the fact that it is, as my wife noted afterwards "the Oberlin Way", I can't share its creators stating opinion that getting people angry, leads to heated discussions that are necessary to produce solutions to social problems.

In sum, while "Crash" is a movie that didn't completely suck, if this is the best that Hollywood had to offer last year, our film industry really is in the doldrums.

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