Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Crash. I like Roger Ebert a lot, but I think he missed the boat when he defended this, against several hostile critics, as the best movie of the year. I'm with the people who found it simplistic, unrealistic and didactic. (In fairness, he's not its only champion; it made a lot of lists of the top films of the year.)

I've only been to L.A. twice, briefly each time, and that was 6 or 8 years ago, so I don't know...maybe this is how people really act in public there. It didn't look like any behavior I see around here. I would submit that the first problem among the races in America is precisely that people don't say what they'd really like to -- not that doing so would be wise or productive in most individual encounters, but at least it would acknowledge the stereotypes and bring the discussion out into the open. In my (limited) experience, people of race X do not typically make derogatory statements directly to people of race Y. The kinds of rants and confrontations that happened routinely in this movie are, in real life, almost exclusively limited to private moments or discussions among people of the same race.

The movie's presumed virtue was (according to Ebert) that it provokes the audience to confront its feelings and beliefs about race relations in America (not just black-white, but among many races). But how can it do that successfully unless it presents a realistic depiction of actual behavior? In Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee famously gave a representative from each of the groups a 20-second straight-into-the-camera rant of the most hateful, vile stereotype-laden insults imaginable directed at one of the other groups. It worked, because that's how people think (and maybe even talk) in private. It would not have worked if it had been constructed as dialogue between the characters, because it would not have been realistic. Crash did this for 122 minutes, albeit at a lower level of vitriol.

Ebert is noted for saying that a movie is not about what it is about, but how it is about it. This was about race in America, but it was about it in a very superficial way. There are no extra points for intention, only for execution.

Oh, and the "magic realism" at the end? I liked the frogs in Magnolia better.

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