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Crash’ by Paul Haggis: Character Analysis

Crash Plot Overview

Paul Haggis’s drama Crash was released in 2004 and received mixed reviews from critics around the world. The theme of “crashing” runs through the whole story, connecting completely different and strange people. No matter how or where it happens, it is safe to say with absolute certainty that the events when a collision of certain people occurs will be full of emotions. Crashing of cars, cultures, law, and crime becomes the reason for dramatic changes in the lives of all the characters of this film without exception. Such pressing social issues as racism, white privilege, xenophobia, and police brutality are exposed. The purpose of this paper is to analyze John Ryan, his behavior, and the trajectory of his development.

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Officer Ryan Character Analysis

The plot of Crash is complex, as it follows eight stories that somehow intertwine with each other in a dramatic vortex of inevitable events. John Ryan, a police officer, played by Matt Dillon, is one of the characters whose storyline, along with that of Thandie Newton, probably deserves a separate film. Ryan is presented as a typical-looking all-American male, middle-aged, tall, and handsome. From the first scene, it is obvious he is prejudiced towards people of different races. During a heated phone conversation about his father’s health care plan with a woman whose name turns out to be Shaniqua, he immediately assumes her incompetence just because she is African American.

The first impressions of Ryan as a white supremacist are amplified in the scene with Cameron and Christine. Even though every ethnic group is implicated in acts of racism throughout the film, somehow, Officer Ryan’s anger towards African Americans is portrayed especially raw and vividly. He performs both verbal and non-verbal assaults during the scene when he pulls over a black SUV driven by Cameron. Ryan has so much hidden anger towards people of color that he uses his badge to attack Christine. He makes a sexually colored remark when he says, “That’s quite a mouth you have” (Crash), referring to the fact that that the couple was engaged in oral sex before being pulled over. He then proceeds to molest her in front of her husband under the excuse of checking for concealed weapons just to establish racial dominance.

This scene shows a horrific example of police brutality even though some might say that Ryan’s actions, to a certain extent, may be justified. As the plot develops, the character of John Ryan becomes more complicated. He is still a racist who insults a health care worker named Shaniqua, who, in his eyes, is incompetent in helping him with his sick father’s health care plan. “Do you know how many more qualified white men there are that should have your job?’ is a statement that outlines his apprehension that white people are inherently more capable (Crash). Telling a sob story about Ryan’s suffering father somehow plants seeds to show his other, kind side. It is safe to say that by this moment of the film, part of the white audience sympathizes with him. It almost feels that the rest of the film is an attempt to justify his horrific behavior. Showing Ryan, as a compassionate son who fights to get appropriate treatment for his father, substantially diminishes his previous racist actions.

One of Ryan’s final scenes is when he happens upon a car wreck and saves Christine, the woman he molested before. The scene is dramatically tense when it shows horrified Christine recognizing her molester, and then Ryan, realizing that in her eyes, he is not a man of law but rather a sexual abuser. Nevertheless, his actions of saving her by risking his life are again an attempt at redemption. It is tough to determine whether Ryan’s heroic acts can be considered remorse or he is merely doing his job. Viewers are left with a choice of either empathizing with Ryan’s character or seeing him as a prominent representative of a large part of racist America.

The main message of the film seems to be that everyone is racist to a certain extent. Racism is viewed on each character’s individual level and on the level of the entire society. However, this equal-opportunity view of racism diminishes it in a certain way and mitigates police brutality and white privilege. Officer Ryan’s character is first shown as a result of social upbringing, where one culture, namely white, is considered superior. However, as the film progresses, his character is given various chances of redemption, thus minimizing the burning concept of white supremacy. Through the role of Officer Ryan and his faux remorse, the attention is taken away from the faulty racist social system, while the white accountability for maintaining this system is undermined. The crash has a great start, but it doesn’t hold up to the end. The problem seems to be in the politically correct desire of the director, possibly not intentional, to please everyone. The potentially strong character of Matt Dillon at the end is shown as half-good, half-bad, thus zeroing out and portraying racism as a relative concept.

Work Cited

Crash. Directed by Paul Haggis, performance by Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, and Thandie Newton, Lion Gates Film, 2004.

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