Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When Love Hurts

There is a condition called paraphilia in which people experience sexual arousal through extreme, usually nonsexual circumstances.

A really extreme form of this condition provided the premise for a movie that was released on this day in 1996 — "Crash."

The topic was rather controversial at the time — and, I suspect, it would still be controversial today. The paraphilia sufferers in the movie experienced sexual pleasure from car accidents.

The movie starred James Spader, who was no stranger to controversy, having played a voyeur in "sex, lies and videotape" seven years earlier, and Holly Hunter, who also was no stranger to controversy, having played a mute 19th–century woman who has an affair in "The Piano."

And, while both of those characters could be considered dysfunctional to some degree, they were hardly as dysfunctional as the characters those actors played in "Crash."

Depending upon how you feel about that movie and those characters, it represents a high point or a low point in their careers. I'm not sure where I fall on that scale, but, either way, it was a disturbing movie.

It was disturbing when Spader's and Hunter's characters crossed paths the first time, and it got more bizarre.

They were involved in a two–car collision in which Hunter's husband was killed. As they waited, trapped in the wreckage, for help to arrive, they could see each other and Hunter, after pulling off the shoulder strap of her seat belt, exposed one of her breasts.

They met again while recuperating in the hospital. This time, Spader met a man named Vaughan who began to draw him into the world of paraphilia.

And Spader was drawn into Vaughan's shadowy underworld, in which he staged re–creations of famous car accidents, like the one that took James Dean's life in the 1950s, for the entertainment and arousal of his fellow paraphiliacs.

(Ironically, the movie was released only a few days after the 41st anniversary of Dean's death.)

I had never heard of paraphilia before I saw "Crash," but, apparently, it transcends sexual preference, and I suppose it is obvious (if one has seen the movie) that it fairly decisively overrules traditional gender roles.

Both Spader and Hunter had homosexual affairs in the movie, and, at one point, it was implied that a ménage à trois might be about to happen, although, as I recall, that was never confirmed either visually or via dialogue.

(I suppose supporting actress Rosanna Arquette had the most varied sexual activity in the movie. A beautiful member of Vaughan's group whose legs were encased in steel braces, Arquette's character had a scar on the back of one of her legs that resembled female genitalia — and was used as such by Spader's character — but she also had an intense lesbian affair with Hunter's character.

(I guess nothing is as hot as twisted steel.)

It may go without saying that this was not a movie for the squeamish. But, as I say, it introduced me to a world that I never knew existed. It broadened my horizons.

But, if the entry fee for that world is injury in a car crash, I think I can live without it.