A Highly Productive Crash
Mark Greene finds much to ponder in Crash, his film of
Crash is a controversial film that quietly concludes
that there is no God. But thats not what made it
controversial. Its controversial because it is
outrageously politically incorrect on the issue of
race. Hispanics mock Chinese to their faces for saying
blake instead of brake, blacks mock Hispanics for
parking their cars on their lawns, black diners
complain that waiters and waitresses never give them
good service because black people dont tip well and
then the diners dont leave a tip. Indeed, almost
every character ends up saying the kind of things lots
of nice people think but rarely express.
However, below Crashs multi-racial surface deeper
themes swim issues of purpose, of life, death, the
human capacity for evil, the human capacity for heroic
acts of self-sacrifice and the question of whether
anyone knows enough to know anything for certain.
Indeed, it is the multi-layered nature that made it
for me the most stimulating film of 2005, and
certainly a film that provides a fruitful platform for
conversation with people whove looked for the
presence of a benevolent divine being and not found
him, her or it. Because neither does this movie.
The film opens with a crash, significantly just before
Christmas. A Chinese woman has rear-ended a car being
driven by an off-duty black policeman accompanied by
his Puerto-Rican partner professional and sexual.
The policeman muses on the metaphysical significance
of the moment. Was it a mere accident? Or are there so
many crashes in Los Angeles because people are so
isolated from one another, so lonely, so thirsty for
contact that a crash is the only way to get in touch
with others? Like deeply troubled young people who cut
their arms their hearts are screaming.
It sounds like blah-humbug but by the end of the film
the audience is in no doubt that sometimes a crash, or
some tumultuous event can put people back in touch
with each other, with themselves or with the reality
of their situation. Of course, it can also hurl them
What follows is a flashback over the preceding 36
hours in which the stories of the core cast intersect
with one another in evocative, thought-provoking ways.
Matt Dillon, for example, plays a bigoted LA cop who
pulls over a couple in a luxury four wheel drive. The
driver is black and his wife looks Hispanic but turns
out later to have been a member of the Varsity
equestrian team not what were expecting. The cop
body searches the wife in a thoroughly indecent way
bad cop. The cops new freshly recruited partner looks
on disgusted and requests a transfer and, at some
personal cost, he gets it. Good cop.
The following day bad cop confronts good cop and
declares that: You think you know who you are. You
have no idea. Nor perhaps do we. Later bad cop
attends another crash. One cars fuel tank has burst
and a rivulet of petrol is running towards an upturned
car. Theres someone trapped inside. Bad cop dives
into the car. The black woman he molested the day
before is inside. He tries to get her out. The petrol
is getting closer and a spark from the other car
ignites it. Bad cops fellow officers pull him from
the car. The woman will die. But he dives back in and
pulls her out. Pervert turns saviour. Bad cop? Good
cop? We didnt know what was in him. We dont know
whats in ourselves.
Indeed, past actions are not always accurate
indicators of future ones. By the end of the day his
former partner, good cop, has saved the womans
husband from being killed by two policemen. Wed
expect that. But when a young black man that hes
offered a lift to seems to be mocking him and goes to
reach into his pocket, the good cop thinks its a gun.
Bang. But it was a statuette of St Christopher the
patron saint of travellers. The black traveller is
dead. And white traveller who also has a statuette of
St Christopher has killed him. Good cop, bad cop.
The good cop didnt have quite enough information. And
that is one of the themes of the film people making
decisions on the information they have and acting
accordingly. Sandra Bullocks suburban housewife,
recently carjacked at gunpoint by two black men,
notices that the man changing her house locks is
young, Hispanic and tattooed. She insists that her
husband has the locks changed the following day. The
Hispanic will, she is certain, hand over the keys to
their house to his homeboy friends.
Shes wrong about the locksmith but is she wrong to
think what shes thinking? Dont we all have to make
judgements like that every day? To try always to be as
innocent as doves but as wise as serpents to love
but not to be naïve like Salvation Army Officers
working with alcoholics and drug addicts
understanding likely patterns of behaviour but somehow
treating every person as an individual.
Crash, however, does not stop at asking how we use the
information we have to make judgements about people,
it asks how we make judgements about the meaning of
events. Is there any? Or do we simply impose our
prejudiced worldviews on events in the same way that
we impose our prejudiced racial views on people?
So in Crash people do kind things for others and bad
things happen. People do bad things and good things
happen. Well intentioned actions and malicious actions
have unintended consequences that can lead to good or
bad consequences. So, for example, a racist gunseller
lets an Iranian woman unwittingly buy blank cartridges
for the gun her father has bought to protect his
store. That night, the store is vandalised by people
who think hes an Arab. Distraught and financially
ruined, he seeks his revenge against the locksmith who
he erroneously believes failed to secure his shop. He
tracks him down, and pulls out his gun. The
locksmiths five year old daughter runs between them.
The Iranian fires. We think shes dead. But no one is
killed. His gun is full of blanks. The locksmith
intended it for harm, as Joseph son of Jacob put it to
his treacherous brothers in Genesis 50. But was it
the Lord who turned it to good? Or just chance?
The Iranian shopkeeper, presumably a Muslim, is in no
doubt. God has sent an angel. We know he hasnt. We
know that it wasnt the little girl but the blanks.
But the shopkeeper is insistent. The films point is
that people insist on seeing the world in their own
way, that they either suppress the facts or simply
dont know them all.
Certainly, there are reconciliations. The crashes
change some people for the better and help others see
their world or themselves more accurately. This is not
however because there is some great benevolent deity.
A black director, a Buddhist, may be saved by a white
policeman outside a house with a huge nativity scene
painted on the garage door, and a Chinese human
trafficker run down by a car is dumped outside a
hospital in front of another nativity scene but its
got nothing to do with Christ. After all, the St
Christopher fails to prevent the manslaughter of an
enlightened, if criminal, young black. We are left
with our yearning for meaning, or our insistence that
there is meaning but there is none to be found beyond
humankind. Our hope, according to Crash, lies in our
capacity to love others, and in the capacity of some
of us to change for the better.
Still, the film raises important questions. How do we
as Christians interpret things that happen to us? Yes,
we may well be able to present evidence to rebut any
atheists assertions about a god-free universe, we may
be able to defend the reliability of the biblical
documents, make a compelling case for the
resurrection, and we may know that life is not
ultimately random, that bad things may be allowed by
God but are not pre-intended and can work for the good
of those who love him, but do we see him acting in our
daily lives? And how do we know?
Two true stories:
Its March 2005. A Christian woman thinks that God is
telling her to pray for the protection of her office.
It seems like a strange imperative but she does so. On
July 7th 2005, a bomb explodes 50 yards from her
building. Glass flies through many of the the offices
like shrapnel from a shell burst. Ordinarily, there
would be people working in those offices.
Extraordinarily, on that day at that time, no one is
in their office. Luck? Coincidence? A miracle, she
believes. So do I.
Its December 2005. A senior Christian businessman is
struggling to discern his way forward in his career
he loves the company hes in but finds the man he
works for very difficult. Should he stay or should he
go? Hes travelling and comes across a copy of the
Daily Telegraph. Its not his usual paper but he picks
it up anyway. Inside theres a Q and A with Jack
Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. One of the
two questions Welch addresses is this:
What’s better: to work for a bad boss at a good
company, or a good boss at a weak company?
Luck? Coincidence? Divine provision, he believes.
Of course, the first instance is less easily dismissed
than the second. But to the people involved God had
provided. Sometimes we may never fully know but once
Christians start praying before and after events then
God may well give us eyes to see his interventions,
and then the number of instances accumulate to the
point where the odds of them being fulfilled become so
high as to be implausible.
Many people think God is an idea. I think hes a
person. Some people think God is dead. I know hes
alive. Some people think God is a long way from here
I know hes Emmanuel God with us. And Ive got the
stories to prove it. So probably have have you. And
the more we pray the more the odds mount up against
those extraordinary events in our lives being mere
coincidences. People in our culture are yearning for a
living God who has not only spoken but acted. More
than that they are yearning for a God who not only
speaks but acts, who is present with us. Isnt that
why Jesus was called Emmanuel God with us? Not
because he came and went but because he came and went
and came back and went and sent His Spirit to be with
us. Crash doesnt know that but it gives us a chance
to communicate it humbly. And in awe.
Mark Greene, London Institute of Contemporary
Christianity (LICC), http://www.licc.org.uk
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