When two cars crash, the drivers collide in a verbal joust of racial slurs. One of the passengers (Don Cheadle), an investigator for LAPD, muses that crashing appeases the lost sense of touch. “In other cities you walk, you brush past people, people bump into you; in L.A., nobody touches you, we’re always behind this metal and glass.”
In the spirit of Magnolia and Grand Canyon, Crash stages a montage of seemingly independent scenarios where the lives of several characters of different races, classes, and attitudes intersect and collide, giving us a wide-angle lens on bias, perception, and human behavior—including our own. We see a District Attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) getting carjacked at gunpoint. We see a black producer (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) getting humiliated by a white policeman (Matt Dillon), while his rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe) watches in disgust. We see a Persian shop owner get vandalized because of a broken door, which prevents him from collecting insurance.
Observing characters at their best or worst, we peg the good guys and the bad guys. Or do we? Filmmaker Paul Haggis isn’t letting us off that easy. His script plays out like that eye-teaser image that sometimes appears as two silhouettes and sometimes as a vase. Crash is that same lesson in perception, that people are not simply this way or that. People are multifaceted beings, propelled by circumstances and beliefs, whose attitudes are subject to change. And if we as viewers hold too tightly to our beliefs, we are as guilty of prejudice as the people we are judging.
Crash offers the experience of unrelated lives colliding, from which we can draw our own conclusions. But don’t conclude too fast. In this film, and maybe in life, Haggis suggests waiting until we’ve observed someone in enough situations. And walked a mile in their shoes. And crashed into someone else’s life.