Thursday, March 30, 2006

A review of Roger Ebert's review of Crash

I was gonna write a review of Crash which I watched on DVD last weekend. Since it's won an Oscar n stuff, I was expecting to be overwhelmed. While I wasn't exactly underwhelmed by the movie, the amount of whelming that occurred during its screening was far short of the whelming I had prepared myself to be subjected to. So today I came ready with my notes and observations on the movie and was gonna be unkind to it in my review. But then, since it's an Oscar-winner, before I criticized it, I thought it might be a good idea to see what other people have written about it, just so I don't look like a fool. Hence, I went to Roger Ebert's site.

Roger Ebert is one of those reviewers. You know the kind I'm talking about. If you read one of Roger Ebert's reviews, one that speaks of a movie in glowing terms, even if you hated it when you saw it, after you are done reading his review, you will suddenly realize what an amazing movie it actually was. This happened to me after I saw Mulholland Drive. An awesome movie which is best enjoyed in print form as an internet review. All throughout the movie, the plot made absolutely no sense to me. It felt like I was watching George Bush's State of the Union address in Chinese and in reverse. And then, I went and read Ebert's review and even though things didn't make any more sense, I began to believe that I had just witnessed a cinematic masterpiece.

So accordingly, I went and read Ebert's review of Crash. And when I was done, I began to see some things that I had missed, some twists in the plot I should have grasped, but didn't, which I can now blame on overexposure to tequila during the viewing of the movie. So now this is what I'm gonna do. Instead of reviewing Crash, the movie that I actually saw, I will review Ebert's review of Crash since it paints the movie in a much better light than my actual recollection of it. Also, I really don't want to be the one giving a bad rating to the movie that has won critical acclaim as well as the best picture award.

Ebert starts out with the statement, "Crash tells interlocking stories of whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Iranians, cops and criminals, the rich and the poor, the powerful and powerless, all defined in one way or another by racism." Here I agree with him. It's a story about racism and how it affects life in a homogenous society. But the way I saw it, the movie didn't offer anything new on the issue. There were no alternative views, no erudite commentary, nothing that you didn't know before.

It's like how, if the world's best chef told you, today's your lucky day, I'm gonna make you an amazing omlet, and you say, mmmkay, if you say so, but I just had an omlet in the morning so could you grill me some filet mignon or something, medium rare please, but the chef says, no wait, you're really gonna love my omlet, so he cooks up an omlet puts all kinds of stuff in it and when it's done, even though it is delicious and melts in your mouth and it's the best omlet you ever had, fuck it, after all's said and done, its still just an omlet and you wish it had been filet mignon.

Ebert then says, "It connects stories based on coincidence, serendipity, and luck, as the lives of the characters crash against one another like pinballs." Yes. Like pinballs they crash randomly. And hence, the title of the movie. Which is exactly my problem with it. Too much randomness in the movie. Too much arbitrary crashing. One likes one's plots to be more robust than characters merely interacting with each other through pure coincidence.

Ebert says, "One thing that happens, again and again, is that peoples' assumptions prevent them from seeing the actual person standing before them." That's very true. In fact, I would say that's the very foundation of the movie. All the characters in the movie have inbuilt racist tendencies within themselves and this has an effect on how they interact with each other, which then leads to strange and dramatic consequences. The moral of the movie appears to be that if you are a racist, your life is probably gonna be more interesting than if you were just a garden variety tolerant person.

Ebert brings out the hidden depths of Matt Dillon's character in his review in a way the movie itself didn't. The way Ebert explains it, you now realize the subtle reasons behind Dillon's racist prickery. To Ebert, Dillon is a tormented guy, lashing out at the world in the only way he can, by being racist. I can relate to it, for example, when the Chinese food I order turns out to be of an inferior quality, I go out and yell at the Mexican landscapers in my apartment complex. And although Ebert doesn't touch on it, I think one of the most profound statements the movie makes is about how some people, who would like to think of themselves as being tolerant and devoid of any racist tendencies, still have some latent prejudices lying deep within their souls just waiting to come out to the surface during times of turmoil. As Ebert says at the beginning of his review on racism, "All are victims of it, and all are guilty of it. Sometimes, yes, they rise above it, although it is never that simple."

So what lesson does this movie and Roger Ebert's review of this movie teach us? Simply that it's ok to be latently racist. Racism is within you. You cannot control how you feel about other races. Or other religions. Or boy bands. Your racist tendencies might have their roots in how you were brought up, what kind of company you kept as a kid, or if you ever got food poisoning from eating sushi. And some of it is just primal fear and mistrust of a culture other than yours. Kind of like your primal fear and mistrust of carrots even though they are a great source of vitamin A. So even if you might be a racist, the key is not to act on your racist impulses. You may be a cocked pistol, but you don't have to trigger-happy. The question is, will you fall prey to your fears and lash out irrationally against an African-American eating a carrot, or will you, as Ebert says, rise above your fears and be a better person for it?


Vee Cee said...

That was an awesome ROAR (Review Of A Review).

Anonymous said...

Outstanding. Well written. Absolutely enjoy reading on your blog. Tis good stuff!

venkat said...

I recommend you read this - Everything you wanted to know about Mulholland Drive

Then load up on tequila and rewatch it. It's one of my favorite movies, and I still don't know why. And while we are on weirdo terrain, check out Lynch's "Blue Velvet" also....hehe..

gawker said...

vc, anonymous : Thanks

venkat : I actually did read up that link a few days after I saw the movie. Which is why I said it's a movie best enjoyed in print form. 'Cause when you actually see it, you don't really know what the hell's going on. But looking back, yeah, it was a great film, maybe they should enclose a printout of that Salon link along with the theater ticket or DVD in order to complement the viewing experience, and maybe take a short break every 10 minutes throughout the movie so the audience can catch up.

shreya said...

That racism is a human tendency. That, like we think in three dimensions, it is sort of ingrained in us.

That said, it has unnerving consequences.

Not only are lives random, but labels like "victim" and "perpetrator" contain an element of randomness too...

A crash of lives, a crash of perceptions, a crash o fears, and sometimes a crash of nobility (ironically, a human tendency too).

That said, and contemplated- I loved the music!

Sunil said...

never read a review of a review before....nice.

But i do like Ebert's reviews.........he's fantastic. I often like reading his reviews much more than watching the movie......i like even his reviews of crappy movies.

What fun!

Yes...i thought crash was overdone and overrated. So i saw crash, and then wrote a review of "good night and good luck" (which was my "movie of the year").

gawker said...

shreya : yeah. the background score was awesome. I realized I had forgotten to mention it after I finished the review.

sunil : thanks. yeah, Ebert is great, before watching a movie I check out his ratings. I don't really read any other reviewers. And yes, Good night and good luck was great. Next on my list is Capote.

Anonymous said...

Nearly all of the characters in "Crash" voice their biased opinions about other ethnicities in an open manner. The dialogue felt unrealistic in this sense. Because of political correctness, I do not usually see people shouting out racial slurs so openly. "Crash" came across as preachy and unrealistic in its portrayal of racial conflict.