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Thursday, March 03, 2005


From Adaptation to Mean Girls, and several films in between, please articulate and explain the phenomenon of the sudden-death by automotive drive-by as the new visual shocker moment in recent cinema.

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It’s not just sudden-death either. Look at P.T. Anderson movies because he has a hot love affair with the car accident, but not for a killer. These films (almost) all have a car accident as a major turning point for the characters involved. Check Punch-Drunk Love, where in Adam Sandler’s character channels his previously random and useless anger into a focused destructive force to wreak sweet vengeance on a family of thugs sent by the Mattress King (Philip Seymour Hoffman), after the bad guys give Sandler’s girl a (non-lethal) knock on her noggin. The beginning of the film is punctuated with another car accident, one to which Sandler reacts very little, serving as a contrast-point to the later wreck. Then there are the multiple wrecks in Magnolia during the Biblical frog rain. Of course no one dies in any of these either. A car knocks a guy off a ladder breaking his teeth; One car wrecks into another parked car; and an ambulance totally over turns, and no one dies what-so-ever. It seems that all cars in P.T. Anderson, while not harmless, are fundamentally non-lethal, life-changing forces of positive movement. Julianne Moore’s character tries twice in Magnolia to kill herself in a car, both time unsuccessfully, then it is she who survives the ambulance overturning at speed only to skid to a halt right in front of the ER entrance. In Boogie nights, the car is involved in a chase from the Wonderland Murders re-enactment scene, and I think ends up running away from or abandoning the characters, another turning point with all involved surviving…

Posted by Andy D on 12 Mar 05 at 05:59 AM

For certain, Anderson still uses them as visual shockers, but death is never a result. This is actually remarkable because I think the draw of car-accidents is that they are so powerful, but so very common and quotidian when the whole idea of a frail human creature being able to control two tons of fast-moving steel, maneuvering them around each other, if presented to a pre-modern human, or that pre-modern part of all of us, is still remarkable. The car quite simply is the apex of technological and industrial achievement, and the proliferation of a rather complex machine that was once for the elite has made it part of the American Utopia; like if something as wonderful and powerful as the automobile can become a standard in our way of life, then so could anything. That we rubberneck at an accident is natural because we can’t even believe that we are doing this driving thing, and that the cloth-covered body in the road could be us next, plays a ditty on our death-drive. Anderson sees this quotidian force, the ubiquity of automobiles, especially in America, and uses it as a vehicle for filmic revelations; perhaps by coming close to death in a car, it gives characters perspective that no other event in the film could. Death gives us nothing, but closeness to it, well, who knows. This is Andy D

Posted by Andy D on 12 Mar 05 at 06:00 AM
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