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Publisher Description

This close-up is a widely circulated publicity image for Paul Haggis's Crash (2005), which was awarded the 2006 Oscar for best film after being endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and lauded by critics as "one of the best Hollywood movies about race" and a frank, intelligent treatment of "the rage and foolishness produced by intolerance" (Taylor, Denby). (1) In the frame, a wealthy, light-skinned black (2) woman named Christine clings to a strong, comforting policeman named Ryan. Her wedding band figures prominently in the image, and her face is a mask of distress, shock, or grief. But otherwise, the embrace seems intimate--almost erotic: their lips just shy of touching, the couple seems on the verge of kissing (as couples tend to do on movie posters). Ryan's face, too, seems guarded, a mask of determination--of heroism, really, for Ryan has just risked his life to drag the woman out of her burning, overturned car, and despite his fellow officers' attempts to pull him away. The sequence leading up to this shot emphasizes Ryan's heroism: much of it occurs in slow motion, with close-ups of the policeman lying supine beneath the gasping, immobilized, and inarticulately moaning woman while attempting to cut her loose. This aestheticized (and hyperbolic) act of heroism, in turn, represents a moving instance of racial reconciliation in what turns out to be the climactic, scene of Haggis's film. An earlier sequence has shown us what is being reconciled here: the night before, Officer Ryan arbitrarily stopped Christine and her husband--a black couple driving a luxury SUV--for engaging in oral sex while operating a motor vehicle, harassed and physically intimidated her husband, and then performed a lewd "weapons search" on the simultaneously outraged and powerless Christine. The rescue scene thus functions as a melodrama of "reverse racism," in which Ryan heroically atones for violating the woman by saving her life, literally liberating her from her seat restraints. But in the rescue sequence, Ryan again plays an intensely active role as the (again) immobilized Christine, upon recognizing the man who recently violated her, screams for him to leave her alone but eventually submits to his heroic and disturbingly intimate act of rescue. Disgusted by her gratitude, perhaps, she hates how much she needs him; he, however, averts his eyes from hers out of respect, introspection, or relief. The movie's centerpiece--the car "crash" that metaphorically anchors all its myriad interpersonal and interracial encounters--emphatically reestablishes an image of white masculinity which has been threatened by carjackings, disease (Officer Ryan's father, who may have prostate cancer, finds it impossible to urinate (3), and a black man driving a nice car. The reinscription, at the very moment of racial reparation, of a familiar model of white male heroic agency at the expense of the inarticulate, passive, victimized black woman (4) seems problematic here, especially since this literal car crash provides the metaphorical anchor for all of the interpersonal and interracial encounters and relationships explored in Haggis's film.

Arts & Entertainment
22 September
Allegheny College
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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