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Crash (1996, James Spader, Rosanna Arquette)

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Even by his standards, the column inches dedicated to David Cronenberg’s adapted tale of Ballard’s tale of autophilia were notable. Agitation came in response to the film’s provocative deviance, led by television producer James Ballard (James Spader) and his open marriage to Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). Their lives change when James is involved in a car accident, killing the driver of another vehicle. The dead man’s wife, Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) survives, like James, with injuries.

Inexplicably, both now find kicks in car crashes and swiftly begin an affair. A meeting with a third man, the scarred and crazed Vaughan (Elias Koteas), accelerates their perverse interest, and soon James is participating in reckless driving and brutal sex, recreating famous crashes and heading inexorably toward a fatal climax.

Cinema and automobiles were born in the same year – 1897 – and their shared centenary gave the Canadian auteur an opportunity to unite these twin obsessions. ‘There’s going to be a lot of different reactions,’ he prophesied, prior to release. ‘I do think we might get a lot of people throwing things.’ The ensuing criticism – which matched anything Kubrick or Monty Python ever generated – failed to comprehend the film’s true potency, which places symbol and meaning behind scandal and invited the audience to reach through.

His cast are faultless, with Spader achieving a dark manner only hitherto hinted at, and Holly Hunter playing against type with remarkable clarity, in a project which could conceivably have ended both their careers. Impressive stunt work and make-up complete the illusion and vindicate Cronenberg’s risks. ‘There’s a wonderful sense of this movie being physically and tangibly a part of my life,’ he said, ‘That’s very satisfying.’

production details
Canada | 96 minutes | 1996

Director and Writer: David Cronenberg, from the novel by J.G. Ballard

cast
Elias Koteas as Vaughan
Peter MacNeill as Colin Seagrave
Holly Hunter as Helen Remington
James Spader as James Ballard
Boyd Banks as Grip
Deborah Kara Unger as Catherine Ballard
Rosanna Arquette as Gabrielle
Cheryl Swarts as Vera Seagrave
Yolande Julian as Airport Hooker
Nicky Guadagni as Tattooist
Ronn Sarosiak as A.D.
Judah Katz as Salesman

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