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Reel Life Journeys

Respect and compassion are vital traits when you ‘crash’

Enraged after miles of horn blasts, hand gestures and angry yells, the driver steered his Tahoe onto the left shoulder to pass his competitor. The other driver swerved sharply to avoid it, causing a chain reaction. Chalk up another Nashville accident caused by road rage.

Across town, driving home alone after a busy day at the office, I stopped short of the intersection. Two city buses were in lanes one and three, their doors open and blocking the middle lane, their drivers busy chatting to each other. “Okay, let’s move *#$&^#&$* and get going,” I yelled.

The expletives hung in the air of my sealed, air-conditioned car, echoing in my ears. “Wow,” I thought, “where did that come from?”

Where does our anger come from? We’ve been taught that anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, yet Jesus was justified for getting angry at the salesmen in the Temple. When is anger an acceptable emotion to protect yourself or a loved one? Why is the line between acceptable anger and rage so gray?

Crash, the 2005 Academy award-winning Best Picture, explores the issues of anger, racial prejudice, rage, paranoia and compassion in an intricate film presentation (with heavy doses of earthy street language). Starring an ensemble cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and others, the film chronicles 36 hours in Los Angeles when individual lives from different races, cultures and economic backgrounds become intertwined through a series of related events. Some of the personal collisions are dramatic, some humorous, some tragic; all of them generate a great deal of personal reflection.

We meet two young African-American men on a sidewalk discussing whether their waitress had ignored them over higher-tipping white customers. One has a chip on his shoulder, the other carries at St. Christopher statue in his pocket.

Next we see the upper middle class housewife who instinctively grabs her DA husband’s arm as they pass the two black men. This angers the men, who pull out pistols and highjack their car.

At home, the husband meets with his election campaign staff, trying to spin the story so that he can still attract “the black vote.” His wife worries that the Mexican repairman installing new locks on all their doors will sell the keys to his friends. When she announces loudly to her husband that she wants the locks changed again in the morning, the repairman drops all the new keys on her kitchen counter.

The repairman goes home to find his five-year-old daughter lying under the bed because she heard a gunshot, reminding her of the bullet that came through her window at their old house in the “bad neighborhood.” Her father’s reassuring words help her feel safe and protected.

Across town, driving home from an awards dinner, an African-American TV director and wife are stopped by two LA policemen. The older cop, hardened by years of work in the city, aggressively questions the couple. He then takes advantage of his authority by thoroughly searching the wife for hidden weapons. When her husband does not speak out in protest, she accuses him of catering to the white society so to not risk his career.

The husband later succumbs to the stresses of his work and attacks the two blacks who try to highjack his car. Cornered in a cul-de-sac, there’s a showdown with a policeman he’s met before.

Meanwhile, the locksmith replaces the locks at a grocery store owned by a Persian family. The owner, whose paranoia is evident through his broken English, believes the repairman is trying to cheat him. He ignores the recommendation of a new door.

When the store is later trashed by neighborhood thugs, the owner’s anger motivates himself to seek revenge. He grabs his new gun and parks outside the repairman’s home, waiting for his arrival.

Across town, a black detective visits his mother after worried calls about his younger brother. Prior arrests, juvenile detentions, career ambitions and bouts with drugs cloud the lives of this family. Later, while investigating a crime scene, the detective finds a St. Christopher statue.

Cathy Schulman, co-producer of the film, hopes that viewers will finish the film with lots of questions, such as “Was this film about me? Was this about the person next to me? Was this about the person I don’t even want to know?”

When life is comfortable, it’s easy to be a Christian. We can plan nice things to do for each other and enjoy the outcomes. But when the veneer of our normal life is ripped off during a tragic event or confrontation with another, how do we respond? Do we still treat our neighbors as members of the same body of Christ or do we respond with anger and mistrust?

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

So now when I drive home after a long day at work, I take my time, often driving without the radio on, giving myself time to calm down from the stresses of the day. In this frame of mine, I am much more tolerant of other drivers and chatty bus drivers.

The film’s slogan states that “Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.” What can each of us do to soften the blow from these collisions?

First published in the April 21, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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