Gavin Smith for Film Comment:
Ballard’s feverish book is nothing if not lurid, but for all its tableaux of dispassionate, automated sex and mangled car bodies, Cronenberg’s film exemplifies cool, hieratic austerity. His setups and cutting have never been more inhumanely deliberate and exact. This exquisitely somber film’s metallic designs, stark electric guitar score, insinuating camera movement, and dazed, somnambulist acting maintain a tone of dreamlike repetition and attenuation. In its subdued, subtractive minimalism and almost oppressive formal control, Crash toys with the possibilities of enervation and entropy.
Simultaneously parodic and mournful, freakish and familiar, Crash’s narrative is elliptical, trancelike, interiorized. Characteristically, there is no final narrative release – only dissolution. If this is a film about cars, fucking, and death, then it’s about cars, fucking, and death as a state of mind, desecrating the automotive fetishist’s fantasies of freedom, enclosure, and invulnerability. Never moralistic despite satirical tendencies, Cronenberg’s films fuse the calm rigor of scientific research with the visceral shock of transgression.
It’s like a porno movie made by a computer: It downloads gigabytes of information about sex, it discovers our love affair with cars, and it combines them in a mistaken algorithm. The result is challenging, courageous and original—a dissection of the mechanics of pornography. I admired it, although I cannot say I “liked” it. It goes on a bit too long. Afterward, I found myself wishing a major director would lavish this kind of love and attention on a movie about my fetishes.
That last line sort of begs the question, doesn’t it?
Cars and sex do have things in common: acceleration, aggression, contact, combustion. Cinema, eternal celebrant of the stupid-funny car crash, is the ideal medium to anatomize America’s fetishizing of the automobile. And Cronenberg is the very guy for the job. His first commercial film, Fast Company, was about stock-car racing; his brilliant remake of The Fly was a parable of love, decay and death, of man misguidedly using machinery to transform himself.
An intellectual and a sensualist, Cronenberg graces Crash with philosophical musings, acres of pretty flesh and even more penis talk than on some 8 o’clock sitcoms. For all that, Crash doesn’t work. Sexual without being sexy, the film moves smoothly but slowly, like a Caddy on a revolving showroom platform. Dialogue scenes are conducted in a reverent whisper; only the brakes screech, just after a climax or before a death. Even the carnographic love play—in which each character has predictably weird sex with most of the others—is too studied. The fine actors disport themselves solemnly, like giant hood ornaments of lust.