Monday, December 5, 2016

Crash: Personal Analysis Through Visual Literacy Lens

Crash (2004) is a movie that I'm having a hard time trying to summarize because there are many different characters and plots occurring all at once. It is a movie in which each character has his or her own agenda and motive, and throughout the film they all "crash" into each other and interact in different ways. For example, a cop pulls over a husband and wife, gropes the wife as he is "patting her down," later rescues her from her car before it blows up from the gasoline and fire from the nearby wreck, fights with his father's insurance because they aren't providing medical service that his dad clearly needs, and is assigned a new partner after his previous ride-along reported him for racism. The movie is filled with guns, fire, and tons of social issues. Because I definitely will not be able to explain the entire plot in this post, I highly encourage you to watch it yourself; as of today, it's on Netflix! Check out the trailer, below.

What do you feel is the message the director is trying to express in this movie? Support your answer with examples.
There are a lot of messages that I feel like could be expressed in Crash, but the two highlights for me are racial stereotypes and that there are multiple sides to every story. 

The movie makes a point to address race, far more than any of the other movies we have watched for Visual Literacy, and I think stereotypes are used to directly impact the viewer. For example, one of the characters is the director for a TV show about an African American family, and when he wraps up a scene, his producer approaches him and says they need to shoot it again because one of the actors didn't act "Black enough." When I heard that as a viewer, I thought about what that really meant; skin color and behavior are two different variables, though the phrasing is muddied when "culture" and "ethnicity" are addressed. But that's not what the producer said; he essentially said that there was a disconnect between the way he perceived the character and the way he expected to perceive the character because of the color of his skin. Another example is that the first scene we see of an Iranian father and daughter is when they are in a store trying to buy a gun. They are speaking in Farsi when the seller gets annoyed and shouts, "Yo, Osama, plan the Jihad on your own time; what do you want?" Because this story takes place right after the 9/11 attack that was led by Osama bin Laden, and a jihad is the word for a Muslim religious war, this comment was incredibly offensive. I was shocked to hear the storekeeper say it; would he have had the same line if the family was not Iranian? (No.) This scene shows the stereotyping of Middle Easterners as terrorists! These examples (and MANY others in the movie) show how race can affect the perceptions of people in a stereotypical way.

The other main message that I think is addressed in this movie is that each human is a dynamic being, and what you see of them in one aspect of life does not tell their full story. For example, Jean is a white, high class woman who is married to a politician and has a young baby. At the beginning of the film she and her husband are held at gunpoint and forced to allow two men to steal their car. Later that night, Jean screams that the "gang member" who was sent over to change the locks on their house is going to "sell [their] key to one of his homies." In a different scene, she berates her housekeeper and babysitter, Maria, about the dishwasher, but later has to call her for help because none of her friends will come to her aid when Jean falls down the stairs. As Maria is taking care of her, Jean hugs her and says Maria is the only friend she has. All of the characters in the film are multi-faceted in this way, and I would say this is representative of real life as well. How I act in class is different from how I act at work or when I travel home to see my family. Until we take the time to get to know each other better and learn more about them in a variety of settings and scenarios, we cannot claim to know all about that individual. I think the film portrays this very strong message that we cannot judge someone based off of what little we know about them.

Discuss if you think this movie has accurate depictions of minorities or if they are situational. 
I think that this movie purposefully stereotypes minorities to support the movie's message. They may or may not be accurate; I have never lived in L.A. and I am a privileged white woman, so I don't know if the depictions in the film are "accurate" according to the situations that people were in right after 9/11. I am sure that these characters only represent one small snapshot of the lives of the people living in their minority groups. I would say, though, that the film portrays the different groups of people according to the stereotypes that I am aware of. For example, the Asian man who is hit by a car is referred to as "Chinaman" and "Buddhist," though we don't know if the man is from China or practices Buddhism. I think the movie shows that we stereotype a lot, perhaps even more than we realize.

Image used with permission from Tony Webster on flickr

Explain if you think the director’s ethnic/cultural/professional background played a role in directing this film.
Crash was directed by Paul Haggis, and he clearly states that his background played a role in the production of the film in this article. It's a fantastic read that I would highly recommend, but to summarize, Haggis wrote the screenplay after reflecting on how he was carjacked 10 years previously; he thought about the lives of the people who had stolen his car as well as who he and his wife had met because of that incident (such as the locksmith). If Haggis hadn't had that experience, this story wouldn't have been created. Haggis was a Scientologist when he created this film, and about the influence of his faith on the movie he said, "The fact that you had a faith that asked you to look inward, and I did and I found inside me all these flaws that all these characters had, so how I wrote these characters was by putting myself in their given circumstances and then writing myself." Because Haggis is a white man, he said he was questioned about how qualified he was to direct a film with such heavy racial undertones. The director's professional background also influenced the film; it was supposed to be a television series at first, but when no one would pick it up he adapted it to a movie. Then, he struggled to find anyone to take on his movie because he was a television director. (I personally feel like this just adds a layer to the stereotyping; this movie about stereotypes almost wasn't created because of a stereotype about television directors.)

Image used with permission from Canadian Film Centre on WikiMedia Commons

What groups (people of color, nationality, culture, class, gender etc.) may be offended or misinterpret this movie and why?
People of all groups could be offended by this movie because of the way that group is portrayed. Because the message of this film is to address the negative stereotypes we hold, the people are heavily stereotyped and speak/behave in outrageous ways. This may be taken the wrong way if other people of that same group do not feel that the character is representative of the entire population of that group. Additionally, people may be ashamed of the stereotypes attached to their group. I also think that people who actively work to combat stereotypes may be angered by this movie because the film doesn't show any efforts to educate the characters on their prejudiced words or behavior. However, the purpose of the film is to educate the viewers about stereotyping and hopefully cause the audience to evaluate how they perceive others. 

What did the movie add to your visual literacy?
I think what this movie added to my visual literacy is reflected in the messages of the film. We may choose to move through life with our rose-colored glasses on, seeing everything as peachy keen. However, problems do exist in the world, and not everything is about ourselves. Stereotypes still exist (people are affected by them every day), and every person is dynamic. Our lives are interconnected. How somebody interacts with another person could wind up affecting you or me. There is more to the world than what we are able to see and experience. We have to remember to delve deeper and not necessarily react based on what we have experienced firsthand or our own instincts.

Image used with permission from vince logan on Wikimedia Commons

What kind of artistic and/or visual means did the director use in the movie to focus our attention?
My eyeballs were glued to the screen as I was watching the whole film, but the one scene I remember vividly was when Farhad (the Iranian shopkeeper) was pointing his gun at Daniel (the locksmith). (Farhad was upset with Daniel because his shop had been broken into after Daniel fixed his lock, but Daniel explicitly told Farhad that he needed to get the actual door fixed so it wasn't Daniel's fault.) As Farhad is pointing his gun at Daniel, the side of the screen that Farhad is on is dark, and Daniel's side is illuminated by the sun. There is music playing in the background but it is quiet, slow, low, and indistinct (it's composed of tonal sounds, not words). Daniel's young girl, Lara, is watching the entire scene from the screened front door and is urgently shouting at her mom; Daniel repeatedly begs Lara to stay inside. But Lara exclaims that her father does not have his cloak (an imaginary invisible cloak that Daniel passed down to Lara, saying it was once bestowed upon him by a fairy to save him from bullets), and she hurriedly runs out the door. In slow motion we see Lara jump up into her father's arms, hear Farhad pull the trigger and the gun go off, see Daniel and his wife's immediate grief and utter despair over the shooting of Lara, briefly view a startled and shaking Farhad gazing at the gun in his hand in disbelief, and then hear Lara whisper, "It's okay, Daddy." (This is all extended over a gut-wrenching 35 seconds, which doesn't seem like long but it's agonizing to watch.) Then, Lara looks at her father and says, "I'll protect you," and we realize that she is fine; at the beginning, Dorri did not trust her father and bought blanks for his pistol. As they walk back into the house, Lara says, "It's okay, Daddy's okay. It's a really good cloak."

In this scene alone, we see the use of light and dark, specific music, slow-motion, and emotion (but very few words) from the characters. These simple elements create a scene that affected my boyfriend and I so much that we were writhing on the couch with our hands over our faces, in complete shock that the man shot the little girl. (We had to go back and watch it again once we realized Lara would be okay.) It is awing to me that the artistic choices of the director and the acting on screen created a scene (and many others; this was not the only emotionally-jarring part) that affected me so much as an outside observer. All I can say is wow.

Additional comments/and or analysis/and or other movies recommendations.
As I have stated above, I would highly recommend this film. It is rated R and there are some inappropriate language and disturbing themes, so it's not one for young children. However, I appreciated the message of the film and think many could benefit from watching it. (I think I could pick up on even more if I watched it again, to be honest.) 

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