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Film Studies

Essay by   •  March 30, 2011  •  3,450 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,742 Views

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People's lives cross with other people's every day. Strangers become a vital part of our lives, often in ways we don't ever recognize. Crash is an ensemble piece about a circle of strangers whose lives all touch. Director Paul Haggis successfully conveys this through epiphanies that burrow deep into the truth about racism, and its manifestations. Haggis forces the audience to examine their own motives, raise questions, and scrutinize the ugly side of ourselves through heartbreak, tragedy, hope, and beauty. In scene 17, A Really Good Cloak, Haggis and Producer Don Cheadle carefully set the scene of a tragedy between strangers using fast cuts, slow motion, and extreme close-up reaction shots, all the while still conveying beauty through the use of sound.

Daniel (played by actor Michael Peсa), a Hispanic locksmith, is a model citizen and a happily married father who recently moved his family to a better neighborhood to escape the brutal violence that caused a bullet to intrude into his daughter Lara's bedroom. A language barrier prevents Daniel from successfully explaining to Persian shop owner Farhad, played by actor Shaun Toub, that his doors need to be replaced, and the dispute soon leaves Farhad troubled as his store is subsequently broken into and destroyed. Farhad is a newly armed shopkeeper who understands English only as it suits him and is so convinced the world is ripping him off, that he often finds himself in threatening, and misleading circumstances that unknowingly have himself to blame for. Farhad loses everything in the larceny & holds locksmith Daniel accountable. With his newly bought firearm and a crave for retribution a tragic chain of events is set into motion as he waits for Daniel to arrive home from work.

The scene opens with a point of view shot through the eyes of an unknown character. Having a scene open with a POV shot really causes the audience to be a part of that scene. The shot is set up in a car and the POV is through the side view mirror. Most of the scene is shot with shallow focus and in this shot the foreground is out of focus, and we see a woman taking a walk with houses in the background, which is in focus, giving the audience a sense of "home" or "suburbia." A white van is seen turning the corner and the woman waves. Watching this all through the rear-view mirror conveys to the audience that whomever is in the car has been waiting and watching for this van for an uncertain amount of time.

There are no background sounds, and the audience hears only music (instrumental sounds) that have been artificially put into the scene. With the sound being taken out of the background we get a sense of seriousness; the POV the viewer is watching through has drowned out the rest of the world, and his focus is on the white van. The music that is put into this shot is very angelic, and calm. Even though this scene is a tragic one, Haggis and Cheadle's decision on the music was quintessential & so befitting for the sense of beauty that they were trying to convey. And tragedy can sometimes be just that: beautiful.

As the audience sees Farhad's blank expression in the next shot, slow motion is starting to take place. With the slow motion, and the POV of Farhad, the audience begins to surmise about the sequence of events to come, and the viewers begin to develop a sense of anxiety and intensity.

Low angle shots are used a lot for the next few cuts, and they are successful in helping the viewer see Farhad in a domineering manner.

The use of early-evening natural lighting helps in building Daniel's character. The introduction to Daniel's character earlier in the movie mentioned that his family had moved into a better neighborhood, and because of this we start to feel for Daniel, and have a connection with him, and begin to see his purity and innocence. Because of the early-evening lighting the viewer instinctively sees Daniel as coming home from work. Daniel is driving up the driveway to see his family, and small things in the scene that would never serve as a focal point for viewers still have a great effect on how we view Daniel as a family man, and as an innocent person. There are hedges to the left of the shot, and they are neatly cut, the house is white and has a porch, and the houses around it are all lined with front yards, giving recognition to the suburban neighborhood. As Daniel begins to walk to the other side of the van to retrieve his belongings, Haggis cuts to the next shot of inside the house, where we see more symbolism for purity.

Haggis begins with an establishing shot of the living room with the audience in the back of the room facing towards the front door where just outside is the impending confrontation. There is a Christmas tree that has been so carefully decorated by the family, and a shrine of baby Jesus resides next to it. These two items were so carefully added to this scene by Haggis and set designers to give the viewer a really good sense of "home." The religious items communicate to the audience "purity" and "innocence." Because of all these items that Haggis conscientiously placed in the scene, the audience begins to commiserate with the characters.

Lara, Daniel's daughter, played by the adorable 5 year old actress Ashlyn Sanchez, runs past the Christmas tree to the window. The only sound in this shot is the on-going music, but most of the background sounds are muted out. Ambient sounds are faintly heard such as water running, and dishes being cleaned but it is so faint that the viewer doesn't take notice. The Camera is at a long angle, and zooms slowly into Lara as she's running to the window, but as she turns around the camera stops at a medium shot of her, and she yells to her mother with joy in her face. She is wearing a schoolgirl uniform, which again emphasizes the religion and purity factor of the family.

The next shot is unique in that it is shooting into the sun, and Haggis and Cheadle comment on it during the commentary, explaining that it destroys the frame. Farhad is seen getting out of his car from a low-angle shot, emphasizing his characters power. The viewer is blinded by the sun just enough to get a sense of reality, but not enough to completely cut Farhad out of the shot. We see what Farhad is wearing, which is a big part of the mis-en-scene. He is wearing a wool coat, and a white button down shirt. This is a very stereotypical outfit for a person to assume a Persian man to wear. With Crash being about stereotypes, and the truth about pre-judgments on strangers, this choice of costume for Farhad is flawless. The car door slams, but it is pretty faint, and Haggis quickly cuts to the next shot of the object in Farhad's hand.

Farhad is holding the gun in the next shot which

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