Thursday, December 22, 2005

Crash (2004)

“It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

--Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) in “Crash”

An Iranian shopkeeper feels insulted and enraged over being called an “Arab” and is so convinced that his neighbors and patrons are out to cheat and rob him that he buys a gun for protection. The white wife of the DA wakes up angry at the world every morning and takes it out on her ruthlessly ambitious husband and her ethnic minority hired help. A white cop, bitterly resentful toward a black woman HMO representative for refusing to authorize coverage for his father to see another doctor about his worsening urinary tract condition, humiliates an upscale black couple during a traffic stop. Two young black men rail against white racism and then carjack the white DA’s SUV at gunpoint, running down, during their getaway, an old Korean man who’s standing beside his van filled with Asian illegals he’s smuggling into the LA underground. A black detective keeps irritating his South American girlfriend by calling her Mexican and is asked to help the DA curry favor with the black community before reelection by turning his back on important facts about a homicide case he’s investigating.

Races and human beings clash in these and other incidents that comprise a vast, karmic web of tragedy and transformation, comeuppance and redemption in the movie “Crash,” a masterpiece of a film by director Paul Haggis and featuring an ensemble case including Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Tony Danza, and Keith David.

Not all the critics agree with my glowing assessment. Several have panned the movie for its implausible coincidences and pretentiously sagacious dialogue. But I agree with the reviewers, such as Roger Ebert, who applaud the film as a powerful parable of race relations and alienation, but also of the essential goodness that lies within all of us and which can lift us above our upbringings and prejudices to connect with those we ordinarily overlook or revile. I felt riveted to every scene and moment--deeply saddened by some, angry over others, exhilarated by some, moved to tears by others (especially a rescue scene of reconciliation)--but always spellbound, always completely alive, always delighted to be watching this movie unfold and reinforce the fundamental truth that “all is one.”

“Crash” is the kind of movie that can occupy your heart and mind long after the last frame has played out. It’s the kind of movie that can make you uneasily aware of your habitual attitudes and conduct toward people of other races and ethnicities and see beneath the outward differences to discover and embrace the core similarities, the human universals deep within. I’m not sure how this can change the way we live our lives. For the fact is, people DO demean, exploit, and even injure and kill those they perceive as racially or culturally different from themselves, and it would be foolish to blind ourselves to this and make ourselves too vulnerable. Yet, we can still cultivate mindfulness and allow its resulting lovingkindness, equanimity, empathy, compassion, joy, and wisdom to infuse and inform our actions and relations with others of all races, colors, and creeds and inspire others to do the same. For as Martin Luther King famously admonished us, ““We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“Crash” is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. I give it an A.


Jess said...

When I saw this movie in the theatre originally I came out of there thinking every one of us acts like that. Since then I have been more aware of how I interract with everyone I meet. I thought it a great study in race relations and I know it had several of my group of friends discussing the way we all have prejudice in us towards someone or another. I give it the same A you give it.

Nagarjuna said...

If this movie influences people to do what it did for you and me--to be more mindful of how we regard and relate to others--it has performed a great service. If it helps us to look beneath our superficial differences to appreciate and embrace the profound similarities in all of us, that is proverbial icing on the cake.