Friday, January 20, 2012

Crashing the Illusion

I hate when real-life changes the film going experience. To clarify I do not mean that I dislike films that deal with real issues or real people. What I am talking about is when events in my own life alter the magical illusion that film creates. Normally it works the other way around. Even if the disturbance is only temporary, it ultimately keeps me away from watching particular films I usually enjoy. Such is currently the case with films that feature memorable car crashes.

Toward the end of December, a day before New Year’s Eve in fact, I was involved in a multi-car accident on the way to work. Though traffic was light due to the fact many were still on vacation, the roads were icy which made the trek to work take longer than usual. While traveling on the highway the car to left of me lost control and slammed into the front driver’s side of my vehicle. The impact of the collision, coupled with the icy roads, knocked my car into the next lane on my right where I was eventually hit by a second car. While the incident feels like it played out over a lengthy period of time in my mind, the truth is it all happened in the blink of an eye. Though my car received the most damage of all the cars involved, the fact that no one was injured is a blessing.

Besides still being a little shaken, which is to be expected, I have noticed that I do not enjoy the spectacular scenes of car destruction the way I use to. This is especially noticeable when watching action films, a genre I usually love to revel in. The best example of this came when trying to watch The Matrix Reloaded on television. While I have comfortably convinced myself that the sequels to The Matrix were all horrible figments of our collective imaginations, I will admit that the only thing I liked about Reloaded was the epic highway chase scene. Everything from the various fights to the numerous car collisions works wonderfully. However, viewing the sequence again the thrill was gone. I could not bring myself to take glee in the sensory overload.

I had the same reaction when I tried to watch Death Proof, a film I usually have no problems revisiting. The memorable collision at the end of the first half of the film, where Quentin Tarantino replays the event from each of the four women’s perspective, is one of the many highlights from the film. While still eye-popping from a technical standpoint, I actually had to stop the film at as I found myself not enjoying the experience. I know I will watch Death Proof again in a few months, hopefully sooner depending on how long it takes me to shake this, but for now the sight of cars colliding just takes me out of the film instead of drawing me in further. My mind cannot help but go back to that fateful icy morning.

If this is my reaction to the big budget action films, then I know there will be some “smaller” films that I will not be watching again for at least a few weeks. Crashes in independent films are often more visceral as they strive to be both realistic and unexpected. I always remember that shocking flashback scene in Adaptation where you learn more about Chris Cooper’s John Laroche character. One of my favourite images in Magnolia is that brief scene where an unconscious Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) lies in an ambulance as it flips on his side during the films climax. Sadly these films, along with numerous others, will have to be shelved for the time being. While I am sure this phase will pass, I will admit that it has taken away my ability to truly immerse myself in a film the way I would like to.

Have you ever had a real-life experience that hindered the way you looked at particular films for a period of time? Feel free to add your experiences in the comment section.


  1. Very glad to hear no one was hurt though that sounds freaking scary. The car crash in Let Me In was brilliant but probably one to steer clear of (no pun intended) for awhile. The plane I was on skidded off the runway and crashed into a building on landing back in 2009 in Thailand. The pilot was killed and many others injured and therefore plane crashes freak me out even more in films. The mid-air collision bit in Fight Club unnerves me a lot more than it used to.

  2. Really sorry to read about that car crash experience. Here's hoping your recovery (psychological and emotional) is quick.

    I remember going to see 'The Savages' a few years ago and at the time my grandmother was considerably ill, both physically and mentally. We all knew it was only a matter of months before the inevitable, and the movie's scenes in which in which the father is clearly not well disturbed me greatly at the time.

  3. Oh my God, that's scary. But glad no one was hurt. I can't think of any similar instance for me that affected my movie watching. I guess I've had a boring life, thankfully.

  4. Hopefully, your reaction to these scenes will fade as time goes on.

    I was watching the very funny A Fish Called Wanda with my sister and her husband. I had forgotten there was a scene where an old woman dies of a heart attack. It is played for laughs in the film (you have to see the film to get the context.) Unfortunately, my brother-in-law's mother had suffered a non-fatal heart attack just the day before and all of us fell completely silent during this scene.

    Another time I had left some movies at my other sister's house, so she and her husband could enjoy them. In the following month, though, this brother-in-law's elderly father passed away. About a week later my sister reminded me she still had the movies and that they were finally going to watch them to take their mind off things. It was only then that I remembered one of the movies had a father dying it. I made her promise not to watch that one.

  5. @Pete – I could how that part of Fight Club would be unsettling to watch, heck any plane related collision in film would unsettle me if I was in those circumstances.

    @edgar – Your encounter with The Savages reminds me of a similar encounter I had with The Machinist. My uncle passed away from cancer the day before I saw the film at TIFF. It was tough watching Christian Bale skeleton like frame that morning.

    @Dave – Sometime boring is the best thing that can happen to a person. Trust me I would take boring over that any day.

    @Chip Lary – It is slowly getting better, thanks.

    Death in a family is always tough to take but sometimes seeing a reminder of it on the big screen makes things even harder. The funny thing is that when it is played for laughs sometimes it hurts worse for the grieving individual than if it was played seriously.

  6. Sorry to hear about that car accident CS but glad no one was injured. I can see why watching car wrecks in movies isn't as enjoyable anymore but I think it will fade away with time. I remember my first car accident (a minor one, got rear ended during rush hour), then driving afterward puts you on edge for a while.


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