While individuals typically have inherently kind nature, they develop biases as they mature. The film “Crash” explicitly highlights discrimination and racial assumptions. Set in Los Angeles, a melting pot of diverse ethnicities, the plot revolves around multiple characters who find themselves tangled in a severe car collision.
The film takes place over the course of two days in Los Angeles and follows the intertwining stories of several characters. These characters include a police detective who must deal with his drug-addicted mother and troublemaking younger brother, two car thieves who frequently contemplate society and race, a white district attorney and his wife, a cop with racist tendencies and his partner, a successful Hollywood director and his wife, a Persian immigrant father, and a Hispanic locksmith and his daughter. As the movie unfolds, each character experiences a significant event that completely alters their outlook on life.
In his movie, Paul Haggis demonstrates these changes not only through the actions of the characters but also through the mood tone, music, and settings. Right from the start, Paul Haggis presents the theme of the movie using the very first line. The opening scenes depict headlights and rain-covered windshields while a voice in the background utters, “In LA nobody can touch you, always hiding behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much we crash into each other just so we can feel something.” Shortly after, we observe the black police detective and his Colombian partner in their car, when a fireman approaches and inquires about their well-being.
In a multi-car collision, a Columbian woman exits her car and approaches a Chinese woman. The Chinese woman angrily yells, “Mexicans don’t know how to drive. She blake too fast.” In response, the detective retorts, “Perhaps if you could see over the steering wheel, you would blake as well.” Subsequently, the male detective also exits the car, revealing a crime scene with a single puma shoe. This initial scene, accompanied by the credits, holds significance in relation to the movie’s title and overarching theme.
Here the director introduces the theme of racism and sets the tone of the film. Through a steady face level shot, the camera follows each character, capturing their anger towards each other. The use of dark background colors and intense music in the background enhances the overall mood. The sequence of scenes in this movie holds great significance as it showcases the individual stories of each character and demonstrates how they intersect and ultimately lead to a resolution. Paul Haggis maintains a consistent approach in presenting each scene.
The dull, plain colors used in each scene draw attention to the characters’ colors. The movie maintains a consistently sad and depressing musical tone, which increases in intensity with each event in the scene. The scenes transition abruptly from one to another, creating a collision of all the scenes. This symbolism reflects the theme of the movie. All scenes are set in the same way, emphasizing the similarities between the characters’ lives and highlighting their convergence. Following the opening murder scene and credits, the story immediately returns to a scene taking place two days prior.
A Persian man, speaking his native language, enters a gun store and takes his time. The shopkeeper rudely tells him to come back later to plan his attack and even calls him Osama. The man becomes angry and starts yelling back in English. The shopkeeper orders him to leave. The man’s daughter, who is with him, pleads with the shopkeeper to just sell her the gun and bullets so they can leave. When asked what kind of bullets she wants, she requests the ones in the red box, although the specific type is not disclosed. Meanwhile, Anthony and Peter are leaving a restaurant and strolling down the illuminated street adorned with bright white Christmas lights and white buildings.
Anthony expresses his dissatisfaction with the restaurant’s service and questions the number of coffee cups they received. Peter clarifies that Anthony doesn’t drink coffee and Peter himself didn’t want any. Anthony highlights that the waitress served multiple cups to every white person nearby but didn’t offer any to them, two black men. Peter mentions that their waitress was also black. Anthony argues that being black doesn’t mean she doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes and suggests that she didn’t serve them because she assumed they wouldn’t tip well.
Peter asks, “How much did you tip her?” Anthony argues that he shouldn’t have to tip with that kind of service, which perpetuates discrimination. If she refuses to serve him, he won’t tip her, reinforcing her assumption. This creates a never-ending cycle. As they walk on the street, a white couple (the Los Angeles District Attorney and his wife) pass by. When the woman sees the two black men, she instinctively clings to her husband’s arm.
By pulling out their firearms and approaching the couple, they proceed to rob them of their SUV at gunpoint, thereby confirming the woman’s assumption. Haggis creatively portrays this scene by focusing solely on the characters’ faces, allowing their emotions to be expressed through their expressions. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s wife becomes increasingly distressed as she discovers that a Mexican locksmith with perceived criminal affiliations and tattoos is currently changing their locks. Worried about the potential consequences, she demands that her husband arrange for the locks to be changed once again in the morning, fearing that the locksmith might sell their keys to his associates.
As she enters the all-white kitchen, she finds the locksmith replacing the lock. He stands up and places all the keys on the counter in front of her silently before leaving. A new character, a white man, is then introduced in the movie. He is engaged in a phone conversation with a woman, seeking healthcare for his ill father but facing disappointment. Upon learning that the woman’s name is Shanekwa, he responds with a racist comment, saying “Go figure.” Subsequently, the audience witnesses this man driving at night with his younger white partner while wearing his police uniform.
The two officers respond to a report regarding a stolen black Navigator involving two black males. At that moment, a Navigator, occupied by a black male and a woman, drives by. The older officer initiates a maneuver to stop the vehicle, but the younger officer intervenes, informing him that it is not the correct one and that neither the suspects nor the license plates match. In response, the older officer insists that “they were doing something.” Consequently, he instructs both the husband and wife to exit the car. While conducting a search, he thoroughly invades the woman’s privacy by inserting his hand under her dress, thus committing a sexual violation, while the young officer barely searches the husband.
The paragraph begins by describing the officer’s explanation that he could have the couple arrested for public sexual activity, stating that this was the reason they were pulled over. The husband apologizes for their actions and instead of arresting them, the officer gives them a warning, portraying himself as a benevolent figure. Throughout the entire scene, the camera maintains eye-level shots of each character, highlighting their respective reactions to the situation. The scene concludes with a depiction of the younger officer’s disgusted and scared expression, accompanied by an image dominated by dark colors and the sound of police sirens. Meanwhile, a little girl is shown hiding under her bed. Subsequently, a locksmith enters and inquires about what she is doing.
She tells him about hearing a loud noise, and he questions if she is scared of the bullet that previously came through her window. He proceeds to share a tale of receiving a magical cape from a fairy, originally intended for his daughter’s protection. According to him, the cape has the power to shield her from harm caused by guns or knives. Encouraged by this story, she emerges from hiding under the bed and settles on top of it. At this point, the scene transitions to an all-white backdrop, symbolizing her innocence and unbiased mindset. Anthony and Peter continue their drive in the stolen navigator, engaging in a conversation about oppression and the way white individuals oppress black individuals.
Anthony runs over a person of Chinese descent with the stolen vehicle and they become trapped underneath. Anthony suggests to Peter that they should continue driving and the person will eventually free themselves. However, Peter convinces Anthony that if the person could have freed themselves, they would have already done so. Eventually, Peter wins the argument and they rescue the person from underneath the SUV. They kindly place them on the soft concrete in front of the hospital emergency bay. Meanwhile, the Persian individual is attending to his store while the Mexican locksmith repairs his lock. After finishing the repair, the locksmith informs him that the lock has been fixed but the door is now broken.
The Persian accuses the locksmith of being a cheat, shouting at him and calling him names in the belief that he is trying to take advantage of him and extort more money. Instead of engaging in a confrontation, the locksmith advises him not to pay and leaves. The following day, the Persian visits his shop only to discover that it has been burglarized and all the merchandise destroyed. The walls are covered in the word “RAG”. As Anthony and Peter travel to Anthony’s actual car, Peter greets a friend he knows from the nearby area. Anthony disapproves of Peter’s choice of companions, muttering, “This man steals from elderly women’s purses.”
Peter challenges Anthony to explain how their actions are any different, stating, “That nigger would steal teeth from a cripple, man.” Anthony justifies the difference by claiming that he does not steal from his own people. Meanwhile, Cameron’s wife visits him on set during his lunch break. She apologizes for yelling at him and acknowledges that he did the right thing in the previous incident. However, she confesses that she couldn’t bear to witness the police “take away his dignity.” Not pleased with her statement, Cameron tells her to go home and walks away. This interaction is visually depicted by Haggis through an up top shot that emphasizes their distance. The scene then transitions to a low camera angle, revealing the extent of damage and destruction in the Persian’s store. An insurance agent arrives and explains that the insurance policy won’t cover the damages because the locksmith’s advice regarding the door was not followed. While cleaning up the store, the Persian recalls throwing out the receipt in the trash and decides to retrieve it in order to find the locksmith.
In this scene, the movie reaches its climax as the characters reach their breaking points. Cameron’s wife, after a fight with him, is driving back home and gets into a car crash. The older white officer, accompanied by his new partner, is on patrol and witnesses the accident. He rushes towards the car and instructs the lady to hold on, assuring her that he will provide assistance. However, as she looks at him, she realizes that he is the same officer from the previous night and starts screaming at him, adamantly refusing his touch. Desperately, she cries out for help from anyone nearby. In this moment, the officer realizes the profound impact his previous actions have had on her.
Despite her preference to suffer rather than accept his assistance, he warns her that she will perish if he does not intervene. While undoing her seatbelt, he inadvertently pulls down her dress, clarifying that his intentions are not inappropriate. Meanwhile, the other vehicle catches fire, prompting fellow officers to forcibly remove him from the car as Cameron’s wife remains trapped inside. Managing to escape from them, he courageously returns to the car in order to rescue her. This pivotal moment serves as the climax of the film, as both characters, who initially displayed distinct animosity towards one another, triumph over their differences.
Their lives are brought together through a car crash, and she relies on him for help. The audience observes the development and transformation of the characters as their stories begin to intertwine. Anthony and Peter come across a new Navigator and approach the vehicle with the intention of hijacking it, only to discover that their target, Cameron, is black. Despite this, Anthony shows no hesitation as he tries to forcibly extract Cameron from his vehicle, once again bending his own rules to suit his own agenda. Cameron, who has been under immense pressure, chooses to fight back.
While Anthony and the other man engage in a physical altercation, Peter manages to escape when the police arrive. Desperate to flee, Anthony and the other man rush for the driver’s seat of a nearby car. The other man prevails, leaving Anthony no choice but to settle for the passenger seat. Amidst their heated exchange and frantically searching for a suitable place to pull over, three police vehicles await behind them. It is in this moment that Anthony’s true character is exposed. Throughout the film, he boasts boldly but when confronted with action, he timidly cowers behind the passenger seat.
Anthony lacks the bravery to take action and relies on someone else to confront the police officers. As he observes this courageous act and sees how the man bravely stands up for his beliefs, Anthony realizes that he is not capable of such behavior. This realization diminishes his strength and finally silences him. He remains quiet as the other man drives him away and dismisses him, but not before expressing his disgust by stating, “You embarrass me… You embarrass yourself.” Until now, Anthony has been a source of shame for his community—an inaccurate representation.
In this passage, Anthony has an epiphany about how stereotypes are shaped by individuals like him. He realizes that his behavior has the potential to influence how people perceive not only himself but others who may be grouped with him. Later, the Persian character drives to the residence of a Mexican locksmith and waits for him to return from work. Approaching the man with a firearm, he demands money. As this unfolds, the locksmith’s daughter witnesses the threat and remarks that her father does not possess any protective item. She rushes out to aid her father just as the gunman pulls the trigger.
The Persian’s daughter had earlier placed blanks in the gun, protecting the girl from harm. After stepping back, the Persian came to the realization that he could have caused harm similar to what just occurred. As a result, he chooses to discard the gun. Meanwhile, Peter is attempting to hitchhike when he is picked up by a young white detective. While they are driving, Peter notices the St. Christopher statue on his dashboard and starts laughing. The officer misunderstands and believes Peter is laughing at him, prompting him to pull over and instruct Peter to exit the vehicle. In response, Peter reaches into his pocket to show the officer that he also possesses the same statue, but unfortunately, the officer shoots him in that moment.
This particular scene depicts the moment when his breaking point is reached and when his life and choices collide with the actions and beliefs of others. He disposes of Peter’s body in the valley and sets his car ablaze. Anthony then notices a white van parked by the side of the street, conveniently with the keys in the ignition. He seizes the opportunity and drives the van to his employer, only to be taken aback by its contents. In the back of the van, there are approximately twenty Asian slaves, confined and shackled. His employer proposes a deal to Anthony, offering $500 for each slave, with intentions to sell them for profit.
The new Anthony exemplifies moral behavior by releasing others from captivity. This act of compassion signifies a significant transformation from the man who previously contemplated abandoning a man to his fate on the street. Instead, he now willingly sacrifices a substantial sum of money to secure freedom for his fellow human beings. The film concludes by returning to the opening scene, where we once again witness the black detective kneeling beside his brother, Peter’s shoe. The scene then transitions to the same image of headlights and rain, followed by another car accident. In this event, the healthcare insurance representative, who initially faced discrimination, emerges from the car and reprimands the Mexican individual for not speaking English. Consequently, the cycle of discrimination persists. Haggis effectively employs distinct depictions and individualized narratives for each character, enabling viewers to grasp their unique perspectives and comprehend the impact of their circumstances. This is achieved through consistent scene arrangements, lighting, scene transitions, and music, which consistently direct audience attention towards the characters and their actions.
In the film “Crash,” directed by Paul Haggis and starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fischtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe, Larenz Tate, and Micheal Pena, the theme of prejudice and anger is portrayed through each story. The characters in the movie experience confrontations with prejudice and anger and eventually learn that they must peacefully interact and coexist with one another in order to move forward with their lives.