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“You think you know who you are, but you have no idea.” That line is both an ominous warning and a promise of hope, and it exemplifies the moral complexity of the Oscar-nominated film “Crash.” Forget the gay cowboys, unconscionable terrorists, eccentric authors, and desperate transgender parents; “Crash” has been slowly picking up speed by winning at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, and the Writer’s Guild Awards–and it is my pick for an Oscar upset.

Writer and director Paul Haggis’s unflinching examination of the lives of a socially and ethnically diverse group of Los Angeles residents, as they collide with each other both physically and emotionally, is a searing look inside the human soul. Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby”) deftly orchestrates a gut-wrenching journey, which takes place over the course of a mere 36 hours. During that time, we witness a politician’s wife, a rookie cop, a T.V. producer, and an immigrant gun-shop owner each being violated, and then in turn becoming violent themselves.

What makes “Crash” different from other films that have dealt with racism and social injustice is the subtle way the story exposes the insidious nature of hatred and bitterness and its effects on the human spirit. It eats away at self-worth while slowly breaking apart the bonds of marital intimacy and family loyalty. Instead of simplistic racist stereotypes, we discover multifaceted characters who slowly begin to recognize the spiritual poverty of their souls. As the men and women in this film find their prejudices and fears violently exposed, each one must wrestle with the decision to perpetuate or end the cycle of hate. For those that choose to be free of anger and hate, a miracle happens: They can begin to recognize and receive grace and forgiveness, whether in the kind words of a Mexican housekeeper or in the miraculous intervention of a child to save her father’s life.

So while “Crash” is uncomfortable and unnerving, we would all do well to reflect on its message. Because no matter who we are on the outside, where we live, or how we were raised, our spirits are hungry for many of the same things–respect, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, and justice. It’s how we feed that spiritual hunger that makes any one of us truly capable of the most heroic actions or the most vicious of actions.

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