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Sex, Film, Car Accidents, and Psychoanalytic Theory

Cronenberg's Crash as viewed by Baudry & Metz

Ouch!

There’s quite a bit of sexual energy in a car accident. Two people (or groups of people) collide, both physically and metaphorically. They emerge from their respective cars, jacked with adrenaline, shaky in post-auto-coital confusion. And, in the case of Cronenberg’s Crash (based on the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name), they then enact these feelings in real life, banging and fucking each other all over every tin hood from here to Toronto (where the movie was filmed).

The psychology of a car accident descends into trauma far too often, with car accident survivors being offered blankets to help them through the shock. Many people have stated going through the stages of grief after a car accident, perhaps for their car or perhaps for the self they left behind. Were humans made to collide at those speeds and survive? Probably not, and the unnatural nature of these unfortunate incidents is un-quantifiably damaging to the psyche (or, maybe beneficial? Who knows?).

Crash deals mainly with a man affected by a deadly car accident in which the other vehicle suffered a casualty and an injured survivor and he walked away unscathed. He gets involved in a sort of cult of car accident victims, led by a prophetic figure by the name of Vaughn, whose fantasies of la petite moteur’ are carried out to the fullest extent by the film’s conclusion.

Now to apply the theory; we’ll start with Baudry, and laying out the groundwork of his apparatus theory. In this ideal, Baudry articulates that the perception of a film is at the centerpiece with the viewers maintaining an ideological stance based upon their own perception of what the author intended to convey. Because film is a reproduced reality, it is susceptible to manipulation, interpretation, and interpretation of the manipulation, which in less smarty pants Mr. Uses-Too-Many-Words terms means something like: what I see in a movie and what another person sees in a movie may be different than both what the each respective other person saw and what the director wanted to show us and that’s A.O.K, because it isn’t reality it’s reproduced reality.

On the flip side, Metz, another proponent of this school, has developed psychoanalytic theory a little more. In his essays, he talks first of the distinction between film and viewer, stating basically that the viewer is conscious that he/she is separate from the film, similar to the way a child becomes conscious at some point when looking in the mirror that it is separate from the image in the mirror yet the image is a representation of itself. He then develops this theory further, stating that the viewer is all perceiving and engages in voyeurism when watching a film. In this sense, he/she feels powerful in a way they cannot in real life.

Think about it: how often in real life do you actually get to watch the private lives of other people? The answer is simple and it is "never' (legally). This is the luxury afforded to us by film and television. In the modern era, in which we are increasingly isolated from one another by our access to technology, film, and television could perhaps be considered the primary way that we develop our sense of self and learn to empathize with other human beings which is in and of itself a terrifying concept that will be discussed briefly later in the essay.

Metz then takes this concept of the viewer as voyeur and applies Freudian psychology to it, stating essentially that it is sexual desire which drives this relationship, in that the viewer maintains distance from the object being perceived and this distance belies sexual satisfaction in that no orgasm is achieved and thus there is no emission or climax of pleasure from which to lose energy and create the void which is so often described by religious fanatics and recovering addicts of every variety.

Thus, in film and television, we find through Metz’s theories that it satisfies the pleasure centers of the brain in a way not replicable through any natural means. What effect this satiation has on the fragile human psyche is indiscernible and/or not the focal point of this essay, so we’ll set it aside for the time being but just bear that in mind alongside how film and television could possibly be the only way humans develop a sense of self in the current times and the reader might start to go down the twisting conspiracy theory staircase of Marxism and the opiate of the masses (which in this case is television).

Now, onto applying these theorems to Crash, a film, coincidentally enough, about a Hollywood producer with a sexual fetish for car crashes and the assortment of accident victims he runs into, all of which share this fetish. The plot sort of takes a backseat in this movie, with the primary focus being the cerebral, freakish nature of the protagonists (and I say protagonist(s) because by this writer’s perception there truly is no antagonist in the film, unless one were to say that sexual desire and its all-consuming nature is the antagonist. In fact, let's go ahead and say that. We’ll come back to it later).

So, applying Metz’s theory as voyeur, we could say that Crash induces in the viewer satiation. Sexual satiation at that, illustrated on screen with erotic, mechanically and body juice-fueled collisions that offer a release for the viewer in the sense that they suspend the need for release i.e. the viewer lives vicariously through the characters on the screen, imagining it as a representation or extension of their own ego or self and achieving climax without actually achieving climax when the characters on screen erupt both mechanically and body juicily, thereby satiating the pleasure centers without creating that nagging void-ish feeling so often found in post-coitus.

By watching sex and car accidents on screen the viewer experiences cathartic release through vicarious voyeurism (yadda yadda yadda). Let’s go down the rabbit hole with this, using the idea that sexual desire is the antagonist of Crash. This is best exemplified through the tragic and prophetic Vaughn, the leader of our gang of sex crazed auto enthusiasts who meets his sad and untimely end in a scene in which he chases Ballard and his wife down the freeway before purposefully driving his car off an overpass, ejaculating as he does so. As in, Vaughn is so overcome with his sexual desire, so seeking a satiation of the spirit and ego that is nigh impossible to achieve that he kills himself with an orgasm of the motor vehicle variety.

It’s no accident that Vaughn is also a former television show host and Ballard a producer on a film set. Nor is it an accident that, earlier in the movie, Vaughn sought to recreate the infamous James Dean car accident using a stunt driver named Seagrave, who later creates the car accident of a different Hollywood icon, dressed in drag, also killing himself out of a sexual desire of sorts. In other words, as if this writer needs to point it out, sex and film are intertwined, not only at an aesthetic and commercial level but also at a psychological level (and if Metz was alive today he’d have a field day with this film).

Now let's bring in Baudry (and Plato, ermahgerd). Baudry says that film awakens the viewer by altering our consciousness and perception based on the viewer’s perception of the author’s intent, using Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave" as an example of this. So, looking back at things that are unnatural to the biological makeup of humans, what two have we discussed in this essay but car accidents and viewing a film.

Ballard, the main character, is seemingly normal (although a definite hornball) in Crash up until a moment at the beginning in which he has an accident that kills the other passenger, awakening his auto infused sexual libido and leading him down into the dregs of society with all of the other weirdos who fuck and crash their cars. It is not until the very last scene, in which he nearly murders his wife in a lustful car chase scene that he appears to snap out of this sexual delirium, and the viewer, to a degree and ideologically (this writer believes) snaps out with him. As Ballard cuddles his wife, lying injured on the side of the freeway, for the first time appearing concerned and asking if she’s alright, the viewer ideally will suddenly snap to as well, left wondering how they found such horrific events to be cathartic in the first place. And it is in this moment of final empathy which we escape the cerebral sexual delusion and feel and see for the first time emotions. Supposing the viewer develops a sense of self through film and television, it is essential that we analyze art, that we only ingest art of the highest variety, for if it alters our perception and it develops our sense of self then if we find our sense of self and perceptions of reality dominated by Kardashians and Jersey Shore bros then we are all truly, most definitely fucked.

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