Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Crash analysis

I just watched CRASH again for my Intercultural Communication class. Man, what a phenomenal movie that is. I know I mentioned it previously, but it is particularly affecting seeing it again within the context of culture clashes, stereotyping, and cultural perceptions that we're studying.

I noticed something intriguing on this go-round too that can be related to a discussion of storytelling choices: there are very, very few names mentioned. Sometimes you see a character's name on a door or a receipt, but mostly the actors don't even USE names. They refer to each other with nicknames or family names ("dawg" or "baba"), or not at all. There are a couple of exceptions, but there are several major characters whose names I don't know, still, after watching the movie twice.

What does this do the audience? Interestingly, in order to discuss the movie people then necessarily need to refer to the actors (Ryan Phillippe's character) or by some other signifier or cultural marker...such as occupation or the very things the movie discusses, racial backgrounds or ethnicity. I wonder if most people would refer to the locksmith as "the locksmith" or "the Mexican"? And if the latter, would they recognize that they themselves are using the same cultural assignments that the movie talks about?

For me this reflects on storytelling choice because as writers we all face the dilemma of how much to tell about our characters. Does the reader need to know his/her name and physical description in the first chapter? Does the reader need to know the backstory to understand the present dilemma, or to care about the character? Does the reader need to know that at some point to feel close to the character? In CRASH (admittedly a movie and therefore a different medium, but still a story) the viewer is dumped into all these situations without background, without even names, and yet there are still close emotional ties created. Can we get away with this in fiction too?


And this time I managed to watch the scene where the little girl gets shot without actually screaming at the television. The first time I'd been dreading and dreading that something would happen to her, and I literally screamed NOOOOOOO at the TV when it did...then bawled uncontrollably in the moment after, and then when she was okay. This time I just cried silently.

Medieval Word of the Day: semi-soun: A slight or gentle sound.


Cindy said...

After watching a movie, I can hardly ever tell you what anybody's name was. Because I know them by sight, by their faces, their names aren't important to me (with exceptions like Forrest Gump.) I think of them in terms of "that guy" or "her," because I've got a face for id. Not knowing a name does not impair my ability to bond with these characters.

In writing, we don't have the luxury of the ready-made image, we need to provide that, so it's much harder to get by without names. We need them just to identify who is there, and who did what. And because it's much harder in print to show the nuances of a person in terms of mannerisms and special characteristics, like a certain haircut, imperfect teeth, or an unconscious habit of some sort - things that are easy in film - I think we even try to say something about the person by the name we choose for them. It becomes a part of their description.

Interestingly, we choose names based on stereotypes, too. Ever seen a hero named Eugene?

Robin L said...

Susan, I ADORED this movie. Thought it was beyond brilliantly written. Those threads just wove together so powerfully. And how brilliantly plotted. Just thinking about it makes me sigh in awe.

(Lorraine, posting under my 'real' name. ;-)

Susan Adrian said...


Interesting; my husband's that way with movie names too. He can never tell you what character's names are, but I always can (except in this case, when they weren't given!).

Yes, it's those differences that interest me; we do need to show more than a film. However, I think there's a lesson there that we probably don't have to show as much as we think.

Susan Adrian said...

Robin (yay, real name!):

I adored it too, though I didn't expect to. I think it was just amazingly well done.

Now if I could write like that--but it's not exactly the same subject matter, is it?