The 2006 Academy Award-winning film Crash is one of the most profound and powerful films I’ve ever experienced. Its insight into the human condition is piercing—a brutal commentary on our desperate need for God. Unearthing. Disturbing. It wakes you up.
If you’ve ever wondered why we need the Christian story of Easter—its Good Friday darkness and its Sunday morning hope—Crash will give you all the evidence you need. And not very politely.
The film will sideswipe you. “Nobody leaves this movie unscathed,” says Hollywood director Paul Haggis. He’s right. Culpability is assured. So is grace.
The primary vehicle used in preaching Crash’s message is racism. But not simply racism—it includes all kinds of relational brokenness: A Caucasian gun store owner toward a Persian man, that same Persian man toward a Hispanic locksmith. A corrupt white cop toward a black woman, another black woman toward that same white cop. The rich toward poor, the poor toward rich. A man toward a woman, a woman toward a man. A mother toward her son, a son toward his mother. And last but certainly not least, we, the viewing audience, toward our very selves. In engaging the film we realize we’re no different than the story’s characters. We’re just as broken, just as guilty as they are.
A Slap in the Face
The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face (John 19:2-3, The Message).
Crash slaps you in the face, strips you down, pulls the rug out from under your self-denial. In a rather brilliant act of storytelling, the film takes the human-depravity spotlight, one we so readily aim at others, and deftly turns it on us.
There’s a scene in which two clean-cut young black men are walking along, talking about the unfairness of racism, the discrimination of stereotyping. As a viewer you find yourself walking alongside them, nodding in agreement with their assertions, sharing their incredulity at the injustice of it all. Then, in a shocking twist of plot, the two pull out their concealed weapons and ruthlessly car-jack a rich white couple. All your broad-minded, liberal sensitivities fly out the window.
The same thing happens when a very nice Korean man, an innocent pedestrian run over by the fleeing carjackers, turns out to be a slave trader. It seems that even our stereotypes of relationally broken reality are not as clearly defined as we’d like to think. Good and evil are inextricably intertwined. Crash unpacks us.
A rich white woman screams at her husband her concerns that a tattooed Hispanic locksmith, working in the adjacent room, is a gang member. With him, we’re sickened as we overhear her prejudicial rant. With her, we’re sickened as we overhear ourselves.
And in the most disturbing subplot of all, we meet a savior—the only redeemable character in the film—a good white cop named Tommy. We seethe with him at his partner’s blatant bigotry. We stand with him when he’s challenged on his racial idealism. We celebrate human potential with him when he saves a black man caught in an explosive confrontation with police.
Then we die with him when, later in the film, he ends up shooting a young black hitchhiker, all because of a meaningless prejudicial misunderstanding.
We despairingly cry out with the apostle Paul, “There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison. They open their mouths and pollute the air. They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, litter the land with heartbreak and ruin, don’t know the first thing about living with others. They never give God the time of day” (Rom. 3:10-18, The Message).
Everywhere we turn we’re faced with questions. Are we really like this? This perverted? This twisted? This filled with self-denial? Have all of us turned aside and become corrupt? Is there no one who does good, not even one? Who’s going to save us from this mess?
The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.” They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it. And they nailed him to the cross (Mark 15:22-24, The Message).
It seems to me that putting God on a cross is the ultimate manifestation of human relational brokenness. Depravity is most proudly displayed in our ability to stereotype, prejudice, and reject God. We choose to see what we want to see; we limit the truth, both in the person of Jesus Christ and in ourselves. Somehow we manage to get to the place where we see ourselves as right and God as wrong—it’s the pinnacle of self-denial, of human pride. We become totally blind to who God really is. One could not conceive of a more tangible way to “not give God the time of day.”
Yet at the very moment our depravity reached its zenith, so too did the providential love of God. While we were busy hammering in the last few nails, living out our denial-based self-righteousness, God tearfully looked down on us, at the mess we’d gotten ourselves into, at the suffering of his Son, and screamed out, “Enough!” And the whole time Jesus peered straight into our eyes and prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
The moment we were at our worst, God was at his best. He died; we found life. We sinned; he saved. Our darkness made his light seem even brighter.
And what’s really intriguing about it all is this: the whole time this story is playing out, we have no idea what’s going on. We’re being saved behind our backs. While we’re still messed up, and messing up, Jesus dies for us.
We can see this same reality playing out in Crash. Throughout the film we’re given visual cues every time the camera looks down from above on the city or on a particular scene, offering us a “God’s eye” view of things. These cues tell us that someone is seeing all of this. The storyline goes even further, opening our eyes and hearts to the fact that someone is also mysteriously acting through all of this.
In a powerful scene of redemption, the most despicable character in the film, a bigoted white cop, providentially ends up being the first officer at the scene of a terrible car accident. The black woman whose life is hanging in the balance is the same woman he’d physically assaulted the night before. Initially both are horrified at the situation. Then something else mysteriously takes over. A greater good rises up within the police officer’s heart, and he risks his life trying to free the woman from the burning wreck. She lets go of her anger and trusts him, having no choice but to let him save her. All the while the mystical music of the movie’s soundtrack plays in the background. Arm in arm the two run from the fiery scene, falling into a trembling, tearful embrace. Then the car explodes and the camera pulls up into the sky.
Redemption. Hope. God stepped in and saved them, despite themselves.
God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. . . . This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness. . . . What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade (Rom. 3:24, 26, 27-28, The Message).
The whole back half of the Crash story is filled with these kinds of serendipitous scenes—salvation foisted upon undeserving souls. The whole back half of our life stories, too, are filled with these kinds of scenes. It’s what Easter is all about: God at work behind the scenes, resurrecting us in spite of ourselves, mysteriously, graciously making all things new.
- Speaking of the film Crash Van Sloten writes, “We realize that we’re no different than the story’s characters. We’re just as broken, just as guilty as they are.” Is he exaggerating? Give examples of ways in which we are (still) “broken and guilty.”
- Who among us are racists? Give examples of how racism plays out in our society. Who among us are racially prejudiced? Give some examples.
- Discuss this quote from Van Sloten: “It seems to me that putting God on a cross is the ultimate manifestation of human relational brokenness. Depravity is most proudly displayed via our ability to stereotype, prejudice, and reject God.”
- What was God’s response to our crucifixion of his Son? What does that mean for us?
- What should be our response to God for this surprising and undeserved goodness he shows to all of us?
- Does the good news of Easter help us to deal with our prejudice and racism? How?