Crash ★★★★

In some respects, the most sustained act of formal invention of Cronenberg's career, since—unlike, say, Dead Ringers or The Fly or even Cosmopolis—Ballard's material rides such a fine line between mesmerizing and flat-out ludicrous that the film depends more fully on his directorial talents. That said, reading the novel immediately before certainly provides some of the psychological framework, the cold internal logic necessary to keep this from becoming a series of formally inventive set-pieces; it adds a sense of progression that might be otherwise lacking. The subject is not the "reshaping of the human body by modern technology," which is "just a crude sci-fi concept," but the transformation of how desire manifests itself, how it becomes sublimated, absorbed into new flesh. Spader projects the precise amount of bewilderment and desire; Unger provides a magnificently vacuous cipher; Koteas reprises his voyeuristic master of ceremonies role from Exotica. Cronenberg's camera moves with a glacial precision, which adds to the somnambulistic vibe, the sense of heightened reality, with the scene of Seagrave's car crash—with Koteas' Vaughan as the nominal director, Unger's Catherine as the star, and Spader's Ballard as the spectator—as the pinnacle. A portrayal of addiction insofar as addiction represents a warping of natural desire for something greater, an attempt to fill a void, except that Ballard (and Cronenberg) don't make room for even a sense of what might fulfill; it's a closed system, in that sense, absent of sorrow or remorse or morality, even more sealed off than something like Lost Highway. There's only cold, hard, unquenchable desire. "Maybe next time."

Other notes:

• Scenes with Gabrielle and the other car-crash victims that attempt to evoke a sense of community feel too decoupled from the rest of the film to really have much of an impact. At its core, the story here is the Spader-Unger-Koteas triangle.

• Speaking of Koteas, while he's generally quite good in a supremely tricky role (see: the James Dean reenactment), he does tend to overplay the dialogue at times. And this is a film where excessive dialogue already tends to rupture the hypnotic unity of the film.

• Kind of wish Ballard's, er, high-rise apartment factored in a bit more, with the shades of Rear Window (via his initial injury) drawn out and elongated. It's present—signalled mostly by the binoculars in an early scene—but relatively un(der)developed.

• The final scene, to me, seems like the clearest departure from the novel, not just an extrapolation of Ballard-the-novelist's conclusion, but a shift in the reading of Ballard-the-character, away from the homosexual reading of the novel. The entire novel is narrated by Ballard, with Vaughan as the fulcrum and the entire middle section devoted to a kind of 'courtship' between the two, recounting Ballard driving Vaughan around as they have sex-by-proxy through various women (mostly sex workers). So the actual sex between them (rather truncated, here) feels more like a culmination than a detour. Likewise, Vaughan's desire for Catherine comes across as coded desire for Ballard. (The descriptions of Vaughan are also the only thing in the novel that even remotely evoke love, though it's still something of an approximation within the world of the film.) But the ending (which made me think of Roeg, for whatever reason; maybe it was the particular shades of red and green) posits a kind of marital "reconciliation" between Catherine and Ballard, with the two freed from Vaughan's hold over them. One could argue that it's still coded desire, with Catherine as the conduit (and if the novel had included such a scene, that would be a plausible reading), but the fact is that the weighting of the relationship here is completely different, with about equal time spent on the Ballard-Vaughan and the Ballard-Catherine relationship, with the sex between the latter far more sustained and explicit; there's only one sex-by-proxy scene, for example. Anyway, doesn't materially change my appreciation of the film, even if it does make it seem like homosexuality is a kind of "detour," here, and thus connected to perversity. But, in that sense, the entire film is composed of such detours (e.g. with Rosanna Arquette), so that becomes less of an issue.