I seem to remember that I saw "Crash" in the theatre, and that I was completely underwhelmed; I thought it was boring and repetative. But since it was LESS boring and repetitive than the book -- while still being an uncompromising adaptation -- I thought Cronenberg had probably done his job.
I just watched the movie again, and after 45 minutes I actually started enjoying myself.
It's amusing to watch the movie's desperate trailer, which outlines exactly what "Crash" ISN'T. By no stretch of the imagination is it a sexy thriller about people who get seduced into some sort of swinger's club, an idea that's so totally off the mark that it's hilarious.
Instead, "Crash" is simply emotionally dead. It has no soul. But since the book was pretty much about soulless human cyphers wandering around an impossible physical/spiritual world -- which may, in fact, be intended to say something about our own world by extension -- that is, I suppose, the entire point of Cronenberg's film.
And that's what makes it such a perfect match for Cronenberg, who for the first half of his career (which many of us consider "the best half") made movies about equally soulless, sexually-frightening people wandering around the impossible physical/spiritual world of...Toronto. In Cronenberg's films there always seems to be a thick, opaque fabric pulled over the eyes of the people, not because the director didn't UNDERSTAND people but because...
...well, I can only speculate WHY he made movies like that, but I think at its root it's one segment of a Canadian aesthetic. A coldness. A repression. People who function and live and produce but who are, on the inside, unknowable and just a little scary.
What made "Crash" most interesting to me this time around was trying to untangle the bundled-up strands of Cronenberg and Ballard, since -- in my experience -- Ballard ALSO tended to write about Cronenberg-ish people, though in a way that's never particularly engaged me.
So now, while I recognize that "Crash" is in some small way deliberately excessive, its "audaciousness" is that it treated its excesses with such INDIFFERENCE. If you enjoy the sex in "Crash" then I don't believe you're really watching the movie...or maybe you have a fetish for cars, or one of the actors. But note that none of the actors -- all of whom are beautiful -- are presented as "porn star beautiful" at all...they look spotty, haggard, and in need to a good sleep.
I think the sexiest part of "Crash" is the Gardiner Expressway. And I'm pretty sure that Cronenberg intended it to be that way.