Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Crash" and controversy

I’m a movie buff, and one of the things I like to do is to compare my opinions of movies to the opinions of supposed “experts” – film critics who make a living by viewing, dissecting and rating the works of art we see on the big screen. One of my favorite critics is Roger Ebert, who also happens to be one of the best-known. Here are a couple of his standard beliefs about movies:

• Movies aren’t good just because of what they’re about, but in how they go about it. For instance, not all boxing movies are good (“Million Dollar Baby”) or bad (“Rocky V”). The topic is not important – only the quality and the originality of the film make it good or bad.
• Movies aren’t usually a good vehicle for making a case for an issue or providing in-depth education. We already have an excellent vehicle for that… it’s called the written word. Visual arts (movies, painting, sculpture, etc…) are best for evoking emotions or creating interest.

This last point is one I wholeheartedly agree with. When I’m really looking to learn about something, I turn to essays, books and journals. Not movies. However, every once in a while a film comes along that not only evokes emotions, but it actually has the power to influence me in a significant way. These experiences are the pinnacle of entertainment to me, and almost every time I pop a DVD in the player I hope for a film that will inspire me to be a better person.

Ebert selected “Crash” as his best film of 2005, and I just happened to see it a couple of weeks ago on DVD. Ebert and I agree that this is one of those films that has the potential to change people. However, it has also stirred up all kinds of controversy due to its topic: racism in America. See HERE for Ebert’s response to some of the other well-known film critics who have bashed this film as one of their worst of the year.

The link above will give you an idea of the reasons for these negative reviews, so I won’t go into them here. Instead, I’ll give you my personal example of how “Crash” has already made an impact on me.

My neighborhood is very diverse. I would guess that it’s 50% black, 40% Hispanic and 10% “other”, including Caucasian, Indian, Asian, and so on. This has been a novel experience for me since I grew up mostly around other white kids. .

When I saw “Crash” a couple of weeks ago, it really made my wife and I think. Hard. Have we been good neighbors to the blacks and Hispanics all around us? Have we made enough efforts to show Christ’s love to our whole neighborhood, regardless of race? And beyond these basic questions, the movie caused so much more thought about the hundred or so brief interactions we have with people everyday, and how those interactions are shaped or even warped by prejudices we don’t even realize we have. I pondered this late Friday night after watching the final credits roll.

The next day, a black family was moving into a rental house down the street from us. My kids were taking a nap and I picked that time to go take down Christmas lights on the house and in our front bushes (actually, a lone bush). When I saw the family unpacking their truck, I walked over to introduce myself and offer help. They declined the offer, but we spoke for just a minute about the area, the traffic, and the usual things you would talk about with a new neighbor.

There was nothing special or dramatic; just a simple, short conversation between people who used to be strangers and are now acquaintances. And who knows, maybe it will even progress to friendship one day.

I am not an extrovert by nature, and it’s very hard for me to just walk up to someone and introduce myself. But I did it this time, and I credit much of it to the lingering effects of the movie I had watched the previous night. A movie that some laud as a wonderful achievement, and others deride as a hackneyed exploitation of an obsolete issue. I’m much too ignorant and busy to worry too much about those kinds of debates, but I know this: I felt warmer, kinder and more natural talking to my new neighbors than I would have without watching “Crash”. So at least on some miniscule level, the movie made a difference in the world. And I like that.


FishrCutB8 said...

I'm with you on this point: Crash was one of the best movies ever, cahllenging our stereotypes, our ideas of how we should relate to other people, and how we can think that people who look the same as us, are the same as us. I still think about that movie, and it continues to challenge me. I would also say the cinematography was beautiful, and gritty, and extremely well-done.

On this point we'll disagree: Million Dollar Baby was a terrible movie. I got it for free through NETFLIX and still felt ripped off.

Redlefty said...

Fair enough; I didn't like MDB nearly as much as Crash. But I did think the pacing, the writing and the acting were a refreshing change from current Hollywood trends.

Netflix user here too -- love it!

FishrCutB8 said...

Pacing and acting were good.

Writing was awful. She gets punked from behind, cracks her neck, AND loses the fight. Puh-leaze. And her family were stereotypical caricatures specifically designed to incite immediate and total contempt. I felt manipulated and lied to.