Crash (1996 film)


original poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by David Cronenberg
Jeremy Thomas
Robert Lantos
Screenplay by David Cronenberg
Based on Crash by
J. G. Ballard
Starring James Spader
Deborah Kara Unger
Elias Koteas
Holly Hunter
Rosanna Arquette
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Peter Suschitzky
Editing by Ronald Sanders
Studio The Movie Network
Telefilm Canada
Distributed by Fine Line Features (USA)
Alliance Communications (Canada)
Recorded Picture Company (UK)
Release date(s) October 4, 1996 (1996-10-04) (Canada)
March 21, 1997 (1997-03-21) (US)
June 6, 1997 (1997-06-06) (UK)
Running time 100 minutes
90 minutes (Edited cut)
Country Canada
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $2,038,450

Crash is a 1996 Canadian/British drama thriller film written and directed by David Cronenberg based on the J. G. Ballard 1973 novel of the same name. It tells the story of a group of people who take sexual pleasure from car accidents, a notable form of paraphilia. The film generated considerable controversy on its release. The film stars James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, and Rosanna Arquette.

Crash opened to mixed and highly divergent reactions from critics. While some praised the film for its daring premise and originality, others criticized its combination of graphic sexuality with violence. Although it was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, it instead won the Special Jury Prize.[1] The film's music score was composed by Howard Shore.



Set in Toronto, James Ballard (James Spader), a film producer, has an open marriage with his wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). The couple are shown early on in the film engaging in various infidelities, and later having unenthusiastic sex; their arousal is heightened by discussing the intimate details of their extramarital sexual encounters.

While driving home from work late one night, Ballard's car collides head-on with another, killing the male passenger. While trapped in the fused wreckage, the driver, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), wife of the killed passenger, exposes a breast to Ballard when she pulls off the shoulder harness of her seat belt. While recovering, Ballard meets Dr. Remington again, as well as a man named Vaughan (Elias Koteas), who takes a keen interest in the brace holding Ballard's shattered leg together and photographs it. While leaving the hospital, Remington and Ballard begin to have an affair, one primarily fueled by their shared experience of the car crash (not only do all of their sexual assignations take place in cars, all of Dr. Remington's off-screen sexual encounters take place in cars as well). In an attempt to make some sense of why they are so aroused by their car wreck, they go to see one of Vaughan's cult meetings/performance pieces, an actual recreation of the car crash that killed James Dean with authentic cars and stunt drivers. When Transport Ministry officials break up the event Ballard flees with Remington and Vaughan.

Ballard becomes one of Vaughan's followers who fetishize car accidents, obsessively watching car safety test videos and photographing traffic accident sites. Ballard drives Vaughan's Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and uses street prostitutes, and later Ballard's wife. In turn, Ballard has a dalliance with one of the other group members, Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), a beautiful woman whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces, and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, which is used as a substitute for a vagina by Ballard. The film's sexual couplings in (or involving) cars are not restricted to heterosexual experiences. While watching videos of car crashes, Dr. Remington becomes extremely aroused and gropes the crotches of both Ballard and Gabrielle, suggesting an imminent ménage à trois. Vaughan and Ballard eventually turn towards each other and have a homosexual encounter. Later on in the film, Gabrielle and Dr. Remington begin having a lesbian affair.

Though Vaughan claims at first that he is interested in the "reshaping of the human body by modern technology," in fact his project is to live out the philosophy that the car crash is a "fertilizing rather than a destructive event, mediating the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity that's impossible in any other form."

The film's climax begins with Vaughan's death and ends with Ballard being involved in another semi-deliberate car accident, this one involving his wife. Their fetish for car crashes has, ironically enough, had a strengthening effect on the Ballards' marriage. As he caresses her bruised body in the grass median near the accident, Ballard and his wife display much more affection for each other than they had at any other point of the film, ending with Ballard lamenting, "Maybe next time" possibly implying that the logical end result of their extreme fetish is death.



The film was an international co-production between the Canadian companies Alliance Communications Corporation, The Movie Network, and Telefilm Canada, and the British Recorded Picture Company.


The film was extremely controversial, as was the book because of its vivid depictions of graphic sexual acts instigated by violence. Evening Standard critic Alexander Walker and Daily Mail film critic Christopher Tookey famously opposed the film.[2]

Although passed by the British Board of Film Classification with an 18 Certificate, the film was banned by Westminster Council, meaning it could not be shown in any cinema in the West End, even though they had earlier given special permission for the film's premiere.[3] In the United States, the film was released in both NC-17 and R versions. The ratings controversy has now subsided and the film is readily available on DVD. In Australia, it was given a very limited release due to controversy, showing only cut versions with an R18+ rating, it was later released uncut on VHS in early 1997, and then on DVD in 2003 with an R18+; in the American NC-17 version, it was branded with the tagline "The most controversial film in years".

In Italy, the film and its director were repeatedly attacked by La Repubblica film critic Irene Bignardi, while the Corriere della Sera critic Tullio Kezich wished the actors to give the Palmarès back to the jury. The movie was denounced by the Municipality of Naples and the environmental association Legambiente, but it was eventually distributed.

Parveen Adams, an academic who specializes in art/film/performance and psychoanalysis points out that the flat texture of the movie, achieved through various cinematic devices, prevents us from identifying with the characters in the way one might with a more mainstream movie. The viewer instead of vicariously enjoying the sex and injury, finds himself a disimpassioned voyeur. She also points out that the scars borne by the characters are old and bloodless–in other words that they lack vitality. The wound is "not traumatising" but, rather, "a condition of our psychical and social life".[4]

In 2000, a poll done by The Village Voice of film critics listed Crash as the 35th Best Film of the 1990s, a similar poll done by Cahiers du cinéma placed it 8th[5] and in 2005 the staff of Total Film listed it at #21 on their list of the all-time greatest films.[6] In addition, Slant Magazine selected it as one of their "100 Essential Films".[7] On At the Movies with Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese ranked Crash as the eighth best film of the decade.[8]


The film was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. In the end it won the Special Jury Prize.[1]

In 1996, the film won six Genie Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, including awards for Cronenberg as director and screenwriter. The film was also nominated in two further categories, including producer. Crash was also nominated in 1998 for the USA Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.


  1. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Crash". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  2. ^ Tookey, Christopher (February 1997). "Crash, ban, wallop". Prospect. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  3. ^ Case Study: Crash, Students' British Board of Film Classification page
  4. ^ Reviews: July 2002. Retrieved on 2010-12-22.
  5. ^ Cahiers du Cinema: Top Ten Lists 1951–2009. Retrieved on 2010-12-22.
  6. ^ Total Film – Who is the greatest?
  7. ^ 100 Essential Films | Film. Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2010-12-22.
  8. ^ Ebert & Scorsese: Best Films of the 1990s :: :: News & comment. Retrieved on 2010-12-22.

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