OVERLAND PARK, KS—In what highway safety personnel are calling "a chilling example of cinema come to life," David Cronenberg's Crash was pulled from the nation's theaters Monday following an automotive accident near Kansas City which claimed two lives.
"Never before in my 16 years with the highway department have I seen such a thing," tow-truck driver Karl Stankiewicz said, surveying the accident site. "This is like something out of the movies."
According to witnesses, at approximately 11 p.m. Saturday, a Ford Aerostar driven by Chris Gosch, 25, of Kansas City, swerved off a county road at high speed and rolled over, killing Gosch and his girlfriend, passenger Lisa Bradley, 24, instantly. No reason was given for the couple's unorthodox behavior, but U.S. Department of Transportation officials say they will closely study footage from Crash to try to find answers.
"There is a scene in the film in which a pair of lovers swerves off the road in an almost identical fashion to the incident involving Mr. Gosch and Ms. Bradley," said Transportation Undersecretary Richard Lathon. "It's chilling. This really blurs the line between truth and fiction."
Less than 24 hours after learning of the accident, executives from Fine Line Features, distributor of Crash, announced they would pull the film from theaters to prevent any further real-life crashes. "Crash was meant to be limited to the realm of the imagination, a product of science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard's fertile mind," said Fine Line CEO Leo Green, announcing the film's withdrawal. "We never dreamed this could actually happen. Crash will end its run in theatres as of today."
Despite the studio's apology and withdrawal of the film, Crash director Cronenberg defended his work in an official statement Monday. "My movie was just that—a movie. It was obviously not intended to be an example of behavior. What happened to Chris Gosch and Lisa Bradley is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy they brought upon themselves because of an inability to discern between fantasy and reality."
In response to fears that "crashing" might become popular among impressionable young people who see the movie, Crash stars James Spader and Rosanna Arquette have agreed to collaborate with the National Highway Transportation Safety Bureau on a series of PSAs. The televised spots will feature a sexily dressed Spader and Arquette addressing the camera while engaged in safe driving. Among the slogans to be used in the spots: "You're On The Street, Not The Screen," and "Remember: In The Real World, Sexy Means Safety First."
Ralph Nader, speaking before a special meeting of the What About The Children? Foundation in San Francisco, said that the entertainment industry must take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out. "We have come to the point where violence and death have become acceptable forms of entertainment," Nader said. "Impressionable young kids can go to a theater and see a car actually crashing into another car. We shouldn't be surprised when the result is tragedy."
Media watchdog groups find it particularly disturbing that real-life victims Gosch and Bradley were romantically involved, just like the characters in the movie. "What's more," said Royce Gehry, chair of the Arlington, VA-based Media Institute, "the car they were driving bore an uncanny resemblance to the ones in the film, all the way down to the four-wheel design and the internal combustion engine. Don't tell me this wasn't a 'copycat'-style accident. The similarities are too great to be denied."
If more copycat accidents follow, some lawmakers feel it may be necessary to close all interstate highways until motorists can receive the counseling they need to distinguish between Hollywood action thrills and the real-life dangers of unsafe car "crashing." Such a proposal could reach the Senate as early as Thursday.
In addition to car accidents, Crash includes numerous scenes of couples having sex. Fortunately, no real-life incidents of sexual contact have thus far been reported. "We can only hope that people do not engage in sex as a result of Crash," Gehry said. "Sexual encounters belong only in the movies."