Racism in Paul Haggis’ Crash

Sometimes when people are confronted under unexpected situations, their actions suddenly oppose their beliefs, ideals and values in life. When they have committed these actions, though, they have to accept a bitter truth: they can never get back to what they have done. And before they could do a move to at least lessen the weight of their past actions, other unexpected situations will come and the process will repeat, as if a cycle of events that they cannot alter. From this thought is the movie Crash by Paul Haggis evolves. The film is about the clashing ideas and tensions among races present in America today as depicted by various characters coming from different races.  The story was set in Los Angeles under a 36-hour period of interaction among the characters living in the community. From this interactions, issues based on race and social belongingness were tackled.

Paul Haggis incorporated in the movie one issue regarding human nature: an individual’s actions when faced with challenges of change. The characters in Crash were depicted to illustrate how humans behave under pressure and under tests of their character. The film revolves around situations that challenge the characters’ relationship with their families, friends, and strangers. For example, the movie explorers the characters’ feelings and emotions when member of their families,or their loved ones, are confronted in an endangering situation. Such kind of scenarios was seen in the film. An example of which is the scene of Officer John Ryan molesting an American African woman in front of her husband. The husband, Cameron Thayer, had done nothing to protect and defend his wife Christine. Although he attempted to stop Ryan, he was caught off guard and said sorry to the officer at the end instead. Cameron’s action could be justified through his background as an African American. He grew up in a much better African environment that’s why he doesn’t know how handle well such kinds of racist situation.

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The situation did not only challenge his character but his relationship with his wife as well. After the incident, Christine blamed him for not acting at all while she was being abused. The shots in this particular scene were mostly a close-up of Ryan and Christie. However, there were some instances that Haggis focused the camera to Cameron and Officer Hansen, so as to see the facial expressions of the two when the molestation was taking place. Haggis also used dim lights to invoke the aura of the scene: dark. Finally, he used in this particular scenario an eerie music to depict how haunted Christine and Cameron felt. At the same time, the music was dramatic to portray the sudden burst of emotions among the characters.

            Another scenario that provides Haggis’ idea about an individual’s attempt to act according to his perspective when challenged by a situation is the scene of Peter and Anthony hitting a Chinese man. While Anthony was driving the car they had carjacked, he hit a Chinese man crossing the street. Anthony wanted to leave the man stuck under the car, but Peter refused to do so and suggested that they should save the man. In this scene, it was evident how Peter showed his own belief and position regarding racism. For him, all races require equal attention and needs. Although the two of them would be likely caught by the police, Peter still act according to what he believes. He did not deviate from his values despite the pressure of the situation to where he and Anthony were in. However, this characteristic of Peter was the same reason accountable for his death.  Later in the story, when the police finally caught their location, he was shot by Officer Hansen who thought that he was holding a gun in his pocket. In reality, Peter just followed his belief regarding racism. He knew that Hansen would not shot him if he shows him a figure of St. Christopher—the same saint displayed in Hansen’s dashboard. In these two scenes, Haggis explored the role of musical scoring as he used the appropriate music to invoke the ambiance of the scenes. An upbeat tempo was playing during the confrontation between Officer Hansen and Peter which added to the weight of tension of the scene.

            Man’s nature to save lives of people, whether a stranger to him or not, was also depicted by Haggis in most of the scenarios. In this case, Haggis also incorporated how an individual attempted to act according to his own perspective. Two of the most dramatic situations revolving around this theme are the scenes of Officer Ryan saving Christine in a car accident, and the scene of Lara, Daniel’s young daughter, saving the life of his father. Although Ryan, from the previous scene, showed racial discriminations against Blacks, he still opted to follow his duty of being a cop—protecting and serving the people. This was also showed in the scene of Lara and his father Daniel, who was confronted by a Persian man and tried to shot him. Lara, seeing that his father was in trouble, ran to cover his father’s body. The shot, however, did not damage anyone since it has no bullets. In these two particular scenes, Haggis used some slow- motion camera movements in order to capture the drama and the emotions invoked by the characters. Haggis also used the technique in lighting so as to better portray the situation’s aura. The two scenes took place during daytime. The light suggests the director’s attempt to end the story in a more positive, clearer way.

            Most of the scenes in Haggis’ Crash were shot during night. It is probably due to the director’s objective of presenting the movie as a dark and gloomy reflection of the racial issues in America. The movie does not only tackle racism among White and Black Americans, but other races as well, just as Asians, Mexicans, and Persians. The conflicts are not just one-way clashes, but mostly compose of intertwined tensions among individuals. Through the brilliant use of screenplay, cinematography, as well as musical score, Haggis was able to portray an important issue of individuality in one movie.


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Racism in Paul Haggis’ Crash. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/racism-in-paul-haggis-crash/