Intro to Acad Discourse Sec36
December 9, 2009
Interpretive Essay on "Crash"
The film entitled "Crash" is a story taken place over a two day period in Los Angeles,
California. The movie was written and directed by Paul Haggis and released on May 6, 2005.
When viewing this movie, most people would notice the racial issues that occur. After a closer
look, these issue also carry labels of gender and masculinity. "Crash" does not only embrace
strong racial stereotypes, but it carries gender stereotypes as well. These gender stereotypes play
a prominent role in the film due to the fact that they are not mentioned or resolved as the racial
matters are. The end of the film holds hope for a world which accepts all forms of race, but the
plot does not touch on the matter of gender, and it does not bring hope for a gender equal world.
The women in this film share similar personality characteristics with one another although they
are of different class and race. Most of the men also have similar personalities, but in a
masculine and controlling way compared to the women.
Recent studies that have been conducted over the past 20 years found that, "Men and
women are basically alike in terms of personality, cognitive ability and leadership... resulting in
what she [Psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde] calls a gender similarities hypothesis"(American
Psychological Association, 2005)i. Haggis depicts the characters by following Hyde's hypothesis
to a point. All the characters, men and women included, are very opinionated and defensive. The
difference in this movie is that the men are macho and defensive of their masculine power while
the women are defensive of their possessions and loved ones. "Media depictions of men and
women as fundamentally “different” appear to perpetuate misconceptions"(American
Psychological Association, 2005). "Crash" follows this social misconception by reinforcing the
idea that men are testosterone driven and women act subservient and irritable. Another article
based on this same study states that, "The research shows... that social and cultural factors
influence perceived or actual performance differences" (American Psychological Association,
2006)ii. This is also incorrectly demonstrated in "Crash" because all of the men act in a
masculine way and all of the women are short tempered, despite race or cultural background.
One example of a man resorting to aggression in this film happens in the beginning of the
storyline. The character named Anthony, who is played by Ludacris, rants about the service he
received at the diner they walked out of. Ludacris exclaimed, "That waitress sized us up in two
seconds. We're black and 'black people don't tip' so she wasn't gonna waste her time" (Paul
Haggis, 2005, 8)iii. Anthony's friend, Allan disagrees with Anthony and states that, "We didn't
get any coffee that you didn't want and I didn't order, and this is evidence of racial
discrimination?" (Haggis, 8). Allan is correct in his statement and shows that Anthony's
reasoning of racism is wrong, but Anthony continues to be angry. This is because Anthony needs
to show control in the situation and will not admit that he is wrong. Acknowledging that he is
incorrect means harming his masculinity. He uses illogical reasoning to justify his thoughts, but
he is actually not mad at the waitress for being racism. Anthony is angry because he did not get
his food as fast as he would have liked and is resorting to a racial excuse to begin the storyline.
Anthony is showing anger because his simplistic need for food was not met in a timely manner.
This is an example of the first stage to Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development: "The oral
stage"(David Stevenson, 1996)iv. Anthony did not receive his food in time so he is angry and
expressing it in an attempt to make himself sound logical. He is using aggression and anger to
show his masculinity in this situation. By demonstrating this adolescent form of anger due to an
unsatisfactory dining experience, Haggis is making men out to be macho children who make
excuses for their senseless aggression.
An argument to this idea is that Allan, another man in the movie, was disagreeing with
Anthony and was very level minded. He was more logical than Anthony in his reasoning, but he
continued to argue with Anthony and did let him have an opinion in the situation. This was
Allan's form of showing power: by using reasoning to take command of the conversation.
Another example of this is when Officer John Ryan, played by Matt Dillon, uses his authority to
overpower an African American couple. In this scene the officer pulls over a black Navigator
which resembles the vehicle that was stolen earlier in the film. He knows that this is not the
correct vehicle, but he proceeds to pull the Navigator over after seeing a women lift her head up
in the passenger seat. After forcing the couple to get out of the car, Ryan begins to pat and search
the women, Christine, who is played by Thandie Newton. Christine accuses Ryan of pulling
them over because, "You thought you saw a white woman blowing a black man and that just
drove your little cracker ass crazy" (Haggis, 19). Christine is assuming that they were pulled over
due to racial reasoning. This conclusion could not be correct due to the fact that the officers were
driving behind the Navigator the entire time. They could not have know what race the person
driving the vehicle was. This means that they were pulled over solely because the officer had the
power to do so, and using this control made him feel masculine.
Officer Ryan took this situation a step further when he began to sexually assault Christine
while her husband, Cameron, played by Terrence Howard, watched helplessly. Ryan does not do
this because he is racist against African Americans. This is explained when Ryan later saves
Christine from her burning car. In the scene outside the Navigator, Ryan is taking power over
Christine from Cameron. This is a fight of masculinity. "Masculine overcompensation is the idea
that men who are insecure about their masculinity will behave in an extremely masculine way as
compensation" (Willer in Aloi, 2005)v. Ryan is showing his manliness by abusing Christine
sexually as Cameron watches. Cameron knows that if he tries to fight in to win his masculinity
back he would be killed. This forced Cameron to belittle himself to apologize to man who
stepped into a territory that was not his. While all of this is happening, Christine also has no say
in the situation, but Haggis wrote the scene to make it seem as if the loss of command was only
from Cameron. Ryan is comfortable saving Christine in the car explosion scene later because he
wants to hold the power in that situation as well. This shows that it was not a racial issue when
Ryan pulled the vehicle over because he does not show any signs of hate when Christine is
without her husband. He saves her as his duty and to be the hero holding supremacy with no
regard to race.
This accident scene is meant to be the revival scene of the movie; when the man who did
wrong redeems himself by doing right. "All of the sudden barriers of race, prejudice, hatred and
personal demons no longer exist. And, somehow they are both changed by the experience of...
sinner turned saint" (Taulbee, 2006, 250)vi. In no way does Officer Ryan redeem himself by
saving Christine because he is just doing his job. The duty of the police force is to protect the
public. He already ruined this title when he inappropriately touched Christine. Saving her life
does not make up for such a demeaning action towards a woman. The scene was created to show
hope for racial tensions to be diminished, but he did not touch her due to her race. For Haggis to
show that Christine was changed by this experience means that she is forgiving this man for
humiliating her in the strongest way possible. She becomes loyal to Ryan because he happened
to be the one to office to respond at the scene. So not only do these two scenes show man's fight
for gaining masculinity throughout the movie, but it also displays the idea that women are
irritable or subservient to men. Even after this man did something horrible to Christine, she
easily forgives him due to the power he held over her.
One could argue that Christine was also experiencing a loss of power as well as Cameron
at the time when Ryan was sexually abusing her because she was yelling and trying to fight back.
This is a strong argument because most of the women in this film do attempt to fight for
themselves as well as the men. Christine disproves this case in the scenes when she argued with
Cameron later that night and at his work the next day. When the couple got home that night
Christine argued with Cameron that he was not doing his job as her husband by claiming, "What
I need is a husband who won't just stand there while I'm being molested" (Haggis, 28). Christine
is inferring that even though her and her husband were in the same situation under the authority
of the police, Cameron was the only one who could have done anything to solve the problem.
This scene justifies Haggis's display that women need to rely on a man's power to succeed in
anything. She clarifies this idea the next day when she visits Cameron at his job. She says to him,
"I couldn't stand to see that man take away your dignity" (Haggis, 63), referring to Officer Ryan
taking away Cameron's dignity. Christine was the one who was humiliated in the situation, but
she feels as if her husband was the one who lost his dignity and not her. This film is putting all
the power in the hands of the men and making the women seem docile.
Along with this storyline, there is another story in "Crash" that displays a macho man and
irritable, compliant women. This is shown with the characters Rick Cabot, who is a District
Attorney, and his wife, Jean. Whenever Jean, played by Sandra Bullock, is featured she is either
yelling at or arguing with someone throughout the entire movie. She is not the only female
character who is presented this way. Shaniqua Johnson, who works at an insurance company,
only speaks with an attitude and never seems understanding or pleasant. The men in this film
have a comical side to them to help the audience relate better with the characters, but the female
characters are all portrayed as irritable and standoffish. Jean Cabot's husband is displayed as the
leader of the house and the man in control while Jean follows along with his career. These
characters also display the same gendered stereotypes as the others previously mentioned with no
regards to differences between race.
These are the reasons to why "Crash" is a gendered movie as much as, if not more, a
racial movie. One argument to the idea that "Crash" displays all women as irritable and
subservient is found in the scene after Cabot's vehicle was stolen. When Jean and Rick are at
home having the locks replaced, Jean demands that the locks be changed again in the morning
because she is not comfortable with who is changing them currently. Rick first looks down upon
what she is saying by stating that she is just tired and asks if she has checked on their child. She
stands up for herself by responding, "Of course I checked on James... don't patronize me"
(Haggis, 30). This shows that the writer does acknowledge that fact that Rick is being macho and
patronizing. This is then contradicted because Rick does not have the locks changed and he does
not take Jean seriously. Rick owns the power in this scene while Jean rants and yells about what
she is not happy with. Although there are parts in the movie where the women try to show their
power and when the men do not act masculine, but then they are cancelled out by other actions
they commit. This maintains the gender stereotypes as unsettled, making the movie a form of
entertainment rather than one of hope for a better tomorrow.
"Crash" is a movie focused of the ideas of racial and ethnic stereotypes. What it also
displays are gendered stereotypes that are never truly dealt with or dismissed. "It’s possible to
produce a film that is politically sophisticated and commercially viable. Haggis is clearly
talented, and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have deepened the analysis in creative ways"
(Robert Jensen and Robert Wosnitzer, 2007)vii. Haggis created a film that must meant to sent
away the idea of stereotyping, but by creating a plot with mixed emotions and gender he
inadvertently created a film that stereotypes men as macho power holders and women are ill-
tempered and docile. There are counter arguments to this statement found throughout the film,
but these actions are then contradicted by the characters who continue to display these gender
stereotypes that Haggis represents.
American Psychological Association. "Men and Women: No Big Difference." Psychology Matters (2005): 1. Web. 4
Dec 2009. <http://www.psychologymatters.org/nodifference.html>.
American Psychological Association, . "Think Again: Men and Women Share Cognitive Skills." Psychology Matters
(2006): 1. Web. 5 Dec 2009. <http://www.psychologymatters.org/thinkagain.html>.
Haggis, Paul. "Crash." Script. (2004): 1 to 115. Web. 2 Dec 2009.
Stevenson, David B. "Freud's Psychosexual Stages of Development." Victorian Web (1996): 1. Web. 5 Dec 2009.
Aloi, Daniel. "Men overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened, Cornell study shows." Cornell University
News Service (2005): 30. Web. 6 Dec 2009.
Taulbee, Sandra J. "Film Review of the Movie Crash." Pastoral Psychol 55 (2006): 247-251. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
Jensen, Robert, and Robert Wosnitzer. ""Crash" is a White Supremacist Movie!." Speaking Truth to Power (2007):
n. pag. Web. 1 Dec 2009. <http://academic.udayton.edu/race/01race/whiteness19.htm>.