Sunday, 19 January 2014
"The car crash is a fertilising rather than destructive event."
This strange, disturbing yet beautiful film is, unforgivably, the first David Cronenberg film I've done for this blog; there will most definitely be more. This film caused a great deal of fuss at the time because of it's subject matter, but I assume we are all grown up non-Daily Mail readers who accept that sex is part of life and we all have our fetishes. The difference here, of course, is that the fetish in question is dangerous to both the participants and others; one cannot reasonably accuse the authorities of intolerance.
Indeed, the film makes no attempt to get us to sympathise with its protagonists; we are as alienated from them as they are from society. And yet, although the film has been relocated to Canada, the main character is named "James Ballard" as per J.G. Ballard's novel which, I must confess, I have not yet read. This is an interesting decision: why does the author choose to identify himself with such a character?
I suspect the answer lies in what the novel and film have to say about society. Cronenberg shows us an unremittingly urban landscape, a world of buildings and freeways and automobiles in which nature is seldom to be seen. Our characters- Ballard, his wife Catherine, the widowed Helen, the creepy Vaughan, the broken Gabrielle and the nihilistic Seagrave, exist in a very urban world where the individual is not in any way part of a wider community and where it is possible to associate only with people like oneself. All of those characters shown to be sexually active are polyamorous, in open relationships, with heavy hints towards bisexuality. Even sex is removed from any sense of human connection.
Without connections to society or any feelings of love, sex becomes mechanistic and nihilistic, pure instinct. And, while urbanisation is a clear theme, I think the main point here is a link between sec and death, with our characters' sex drives linking to their death drives.
Because that is what our characters have; death as a fetish. Seagrave is the prime example, found dead by Vaughan having re-enacted the death of Jayne Mansfield without him. And the last scene shows Ballard comforting Catherine after the crash fails to kill her: "Maybe the next one, darling." And then they have sex beside the crashed car.
Probably the highlight of the film is a massive car crash which is treated by the camera as porn, a hugely effective clash of style and content as the camera lingers erotically over buckled bonnets and bloodied faces while even the soundtrack tries to tell us we are watching porn.
I cannot identify with this link between sex and death. Sex is not death; it creates life. Sex is two fingers up at the Reaper. But this is a beautifully developed motif, and this is a beautiful and philosophical work of art that deserves all the praise it gets.