Los Angeles, a city under the stars washed out by a raging fire upon the surface. For decades, the city has become a breeding ground for discussion on the ways in which race impacts our interactions with one another. Like moths towards a flame those looking for ways to explain or comprehend these racially perturbing events, have found some sort of attraction to Los Angeles. Such moths include Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco director and writer of the Oscar Best Picture winner Crash (2004). Crash is a collection of race centric stories that unravels the subconscious in the way that exploits many conflicting viewpoints to amass a powerful narrative on the subject. While Crash constructs a multitude of unique perspectives one of the more poignant contrast comes from two policemen: Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Officer Hansen (Ryan Philippe).

Ryan and Hansen are supposed to be officers on the same side of the force, but are certainly not on the same page. Their introduction to the audience occurs during a routine stop that turns for the worst quickly. Ryan decides to pull over a black couple for outdated plates and “lewd” conduct, which Ryan than commits an act of rather “lewd” conduct himself when he pats down the woman. Ryan’s misconduct of the power invested in his status as a commanding officer represents the abuses of the system. Ryan embodies what scholars influenced by bell hooks’ critical race theory would describe as “our system of white-over-colored ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material” (Delgado, Stefancic). Ryan can gain pleasure from the advantages the system has allowed him and to do so suffering little consequence.

Hansen displeased with the rotten behavior of his partner, decides to request change but his encounter with the police chief proves that the solution is not so obtainable. Hansen is confronted with the obstacle that, “racism is difficult to cure or address” (Delgado, Stefancic). The Chief gives Hansen a proposition, that if he wants out he either must call out his partner and file a report or learn humility in selfishly not addressing the problem. Hansen assumed that Ryan’s conduct would not be accepted, but for his unwillingness to advocate against him, has Hansen discovered he is as well compounded into the problem. Hansen find that he doesn’t have the “cure” to his problem, stirring internal conflict within him.

Then the two policemen have a final confrontation, with one another before parting ways. Ryan warns Hansen that he might not know himself completely, but Hansen shrugs off these claims as he holster’s a moral superiority. Hansen is able to further raise his pedestal higher, by reconciling his previous partners past grievance as he convinces other officers to let off the same black man off with a warning. Hansen believes that with this he had finally taken proper action to become the change to better the world and that while vile men like Ryan do exist, he can repair the damage of others.

It is then, that the coin flips, and it becomes apparent that things are not as binary as they we’re perceived. Ryan responds to an emergency call in which a car has wrecked and is turned over. Ryan is given the opportunity to redeem himself, in which he heroically rescues the woman he had groped in the previous scene. This is a stark contrast from what the audience, other around him, and even himself came to believe about his self-worth. Ryan admits that he is a prick to Shaniqua and that he is not as great of a man as his ill-father. However, when it comes to the line of duty, Ryan puts his prejudices aside and acts honorable. Hooks beliefs echoed the point that discrimination should not be considered “fixed” and is able to “invent, manipulate, or retire” (Delgado, Stefancic). Ryan assumed he was the vile person that others called him out for, but was still able to find an ounce of good within him after all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hansen returns to reality that he is not above others. Hansen picks up one of the car-jackers who was hitchhiking on the road. During this encounter, Hansen appears to get very paranoid about his unwanted guest. Hansen shows hostility towards the hitchhiker, especially over remarks that he enjoys country music and ice skating actively peeling back the gilded foil of his moral compass and starts to unravel the foulness that lurk in him. Hansen provoked by the hitchhiker’s laughter and reaching into his pocket decides to shoot the man dead. The item is his pocket, was against Hansen assumption of something threatening but something that drew a connection to the both as humans, a St. Christopher Statue. Hansen’s lesson is how, “Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances” (Delgado, Stefancic). There is neither a fine line between good and evil nor is there a single defining factor that could encompass the complexity of a human being.

Los Angeles, a city burned by its own flames reaching towards the untouchable stars. Crash attempted to expose burns upon the surface level of the city hoping that the acknowledgment of the severe damage can do some good. The contrasting presentation of officer Ryan and officer Hansen provides viewpoint into the chaos that provides insight on the difficulty of knighting heroes and demonizing villains that both do not truly exist. We cannot ignore the flames or pretend we know how the can be extinguished but by looking with discomfort into the raging fire will enlightenment come.


Works Cited

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. “Basic tenets of Critical Race Theory.” Critical Race Theory, New York University Press, 2016.

Haggis, Paul and Bobby Moresco. Crash. Lions Gate, 2004.

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