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Crash - Character Analysis

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CRASHING IN OUR OWN ZONE

The film Crash (2005) directed by Paul Haggis takes place in the city of Los Angeles’ and focuses on the ethnically diverse population of the city. It puts a spotlight on the high degree of alienation amongst the groups where meaningful human contact only occurs if individuals literally ‘crash’ into one another.
The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a population of 3.8 million (Census, 2005); it is home to more poor people than any other urban area in the US. Approximately 20% of residents, including one of every three children, live in poverty (Census, 2005). The city is home as well to extravagant displays of wealth, mainly associated with the entertainment industry, making income inequality the most disheartening part of the Los Angeles region today. In addition to this vast social polarization there is a large immigrant population that struggles with integration, poverty and alienation.
The movie is filmed as a series of vignettes focusing on the lives of several characters over a two-day period in post-9/11 America. Haggis’ characters exemplify various substantive birth cohorts and vast differences in gender, age, and class relations. These include characters of Caucasian, African American, Persian, Mexican, Korean, and Hispanic decent. He depicts these characters as forming harmful prejudices from a combination of impressions and individual beliefs toward each other as well as using stereotypes to define each other.
The concepts and theoretical approach that helps explain this film is identifying the coalescence of class, age, and ethnicity and how it shapes the views of three distinct characters in the film: Anthony, a black male that chooses to initially conform to his stereotype of a gangster from the Los Angeles ghetto; Cameron Thayer, a successful middle-aged black man that is conflicted about his role in society based on his ethnic background and career, and Farhad, an elderly Persian immigrant that forms his conceptions and prejudice toward the Western world due to his generational beliefs and habitus, the cumulative embodied experiences that are shaped by structural realities (McMullin, 2010).
Analysis
The coalescence framework helps articulate an individual’s substantive birth cohort, which captures the ‘lives in time and place’ while also representing the generation, gender, ethnicity, and class positions into which people are born through no choice of their own (McMullin, 2010). To better understand the characters’ position in society, I will use the relative framework to analyze the movie Crash and discuss how the experiences of Anthony, Cameron Thayer, and Farhad all shape their attitudes, values, and beliefs throughout the movie and how they overcome the barriers.
Anthony
Anthony is an articulate, young, black male in his late twenties to early thirties that lives in the “ghettos” of Los Angeles. He is involved in criminal activities such as robberies and car theft. The way Anthony sees the world is filtered through a series of prejudices and personal experiences he has endured as a result of being African American and living in a poverty-stricken area.
Initially, he is one of the most prejudiced and arrogant characters in the movie. He seems to believe that his way of life is the only way to live and pays little attention to others’ beliefs and values.
In Anthony’s opening scene, he steps out of a store and says, “Did you see any White people in there waiting an hour and thirty-two minutes for a plate of spaghetti?” and then further complains about not getting any coffee, despite not asking for any or even liking coffee. This depicts his bitter attitude toward class relations and how he perceives himself as being treated unjustly because he is a black male. He further discriminates against the Black waitress for the poor service and says, “You think Black women don’t think in stereotypes?” This emphasizes that he has categorized individuals based on their skin color and that he also uses stereotypes and racist beliefs to define people. Interestingly we see that he does not tip the waitress, which perpetuates the stereotype of Black people not tipping.
In the film, Anthony also gets furious when he sees a White woman clutch her husband tightly at the sight of him and his African American friend. However, this part is ironic since right after that he says, “she should have no reason to be scared” and then robs her at gunpoint and steals her car. Both this scene and the one where he does not tip the waitress show him perpetuating the stereotypes for which he faults others. This way he further verifies his conformation, the processes through which individuals comply with and accept the various schemas and resources that structure society (McMullin, 2010).
While driving away with the stolen vehicle, Anthony is seen constantly talking about his cultural ‘beliefs’ about how the rest of the world is out to get his culture, when he himself is making no steps towards ‘resistance’, which is the processes through which individuals reject and act against established social structures (McMullin, 2010). During the car ride, he says he would never steal from a member of the African American community. He only steals from people who “deserve” it. He would also rather walk along the street all the way across town than to be seen riding the bus, which to him was seen as totally inferior. He said, “You don’t have any idea why they put great big windows on busses, one reason only, to humiliate the people of color riding on them because black people were not successful enough to afford their own transportation.” All these irrational comments are filtered through his intersecting views on class, age, and ethnicity.
Towards the end of the film, Anthony’s conformation of his class, age, gender, and ethnicity begin to shift due to a run-in with another conflicted African American in the film, Cameron Thayer. Anthony pulls out his gun to steal his car and when he opens the door, he finds that a black man is driving, and despite claiming he would never steal from an African American, continues to pull him out of the vehicle. He later learns a very big lesson from Cameron, who chooses not to turn him to the police, and lets him out at the stop sign and says, “you embarrass me, you embarrass yourself”. This makes Anthony think about his life and he begins to take his initial strides toward ‘resistance’.
First, he rides a bus and puts his egocentric views aside. Then, after stealing a white van and taking it to the chop shop and finding the back full of Illegal Immigrants, he decides to let them free on a busy street corner where they won’t be caught and gives his own money to one of them rather than profiting from them by selling them for a large sum of money. Through this selfless act he feels his self-worth improve and for the first time in the film, we see him smile.
To summarize, Anthony’s position in society makes him conform because of his substantive cohort and facets of social inequality, he lacks communication with other cultures and makes generalizations that all the people that he and his partner in crime run into are being prejudiced toward them, and by him making these assumptions he in turn is being prejudiced toward other cultures and their beliefs. Anthony’s character stopped conforming and began resisting acutely based on the coalescence framework, which helped him break out and understand intercultural communications, helping him grow as the movie progressed. If he continues to resist and change his ways, he will be demonstrating chronic resistance.
Cameron Thayer
The second character for my analysis of how Crash demonstrates intersecting social inequalities of race, age, and ethnicity is depicted by Cameron Thayer, a sophisticated married Black male who is a television director driven by a series of racially motivated indignities into a near-suicidal rage when he is confronted for a second time by White policemen.
Initially, Cameron seemed like an easy-going director with a beautiful wife and a great life, but after encountering a racist police officer, his character’s confidence came to a halt. Cameron’s wife was molested by the police officer when they were pulled over at the start of the movie and he did nothing to stop it, or felt he could not do anything because his White colleagues would hear about it and realize his “Black” tendencies.
Despite being a director and leading a good life, Cameron didn’t quite know where he stood with respect to his culture. He wanted to fit into the White community but was still not as assimilated as he would have liked to be. When he ran into problems at work or even with the police and the aggressor was a White person, he seemed to collapse under their say and not talk back or form an opinion of his own. Even his wife accused him of not standing up for himself. He is depicted as a conflicted man, straddling two cultures and not understanding his place in either.
Although he had the suggestion of having power in his life: a nice house, a valuable car, and a beautiful wife, he was stripped down to nothing after the molestation. He was so easily stripped because of the attitude he had toward the police and his boss. He believed that there was nothing he could do when these people confronted him. Once he had hit rock bottom, with his wife angry and a lowered self-esteem, he tried to drastically change this attitude by just not caring about anything through the hijacking of his car and getting pulled over. Going from completely passive to not caring whether he lived or died is a drastic transformation of his cognitive mechanisms.
Even though all this was going on around him he still seemed to maintain his values for the most part throughout the movie. He was a genuinely nice man who held himself as a professional and what he thought to be a role model in the community. Even after he lost it on the police he still felt it necessary to tell Anthony, who tried to steal his car, that he embarrasses him.
Cameron’s character is intriguing because to a passerby he would seem to be a normal, powerful Hollywood director, when in reality he was easily stripped of his power and dignity based solely on his ethnic background. After altering his sense of self and standing up for himself, the viewer could almost sense that he would go back to work with a different attitude for his job and life.
Farhad
The final character I will discuss that demonstrated traits of structural inequality is Farhad, an elderly male Persian shopkeeper in the movie that immigrated to America and speaks broken English. He represents intersections of age, ethnicity, and class and it is mainly due to the events following the actions in America on 9/11. Farhad, being a Persian living in Los Angeles, is culturally different than the other individuals in his surroundings. Throughout the entire movie he keeps his guard up and remains very abrasive to people not of his culture. The first example of this is when he feels that he has to protect himself by buying a gun. The gun salesman displays a strong social distance to the Persian and is reluctant in selling the gun based on his ethnicity and shouts, “Yo Osama! Plan the jihad on your own time.” The salesman is portrayed as somewhat of a ‘redneck’ that are stereotyped as not being accepting of others culture. Ironically, most Persians that had immigrated to Los Angeles did so in 1979 to escape the revolution and Islamic regime that followed in Iran, thereby making the reference to Farhad even more absurd. The salesman represents an ethnocentric attitude toward the Persian thinking that he is somehow above Farhad based solely on race. When Farhad becomes furious toward the salesmen, he wants him kicked out of his store in a discriminatory manner. Farhad’s daughter, who is well spoken and sensible, steps in and convinces the salesmen to sell the gun along with ammunition, but does so reluctantly.
Farhad demonstrates characteristics of being lost in a culture clash of two different worlds. Typical American beliefs differ from his and it appears that he is trying to become Americanized but still remains very apprehensive to people of different heritage. His defensive filters are later demonstrated when he needs to replace a lock in his shop and is served by a Hispanic door lock repairman. The Hispanic individual is trying to communicate to Farhad that the entire door needs to be replaced, and not just the lock. He is not willing to listen to the Hispanic because he believes this is a set up and the Hispanic repairman knows someone who sells doors. Farhad continues shouting, “just fix the lock!” and this aggressive nature results in the two arguing with the Hispanic getting furious and throwing the bill in the trashcan and leaving the shop in frustration. This is an example of a failed heterophily, in which two individuals fail to communicate because of a distant or somewhat resentful attitude towards one another because of being so culturally diverse (Rogers, 1970).
The Persian shopkeeper also demonstrates ethnocentric views based on his membranes, which determine which aspects of the social structure influence an individual’s behaviour and which do not (McMullin, 2005). It is ironic that even though on multiple accounts the shopkeeper is discriminated against, he still judges other cultures and considers his culture as more respectable than others. After all the hardships the shopkeeper experiences, with his store being vandalized because of an unrepaired door, he assumes without any proof that it was the doing of the Hispanic man who replaced his lock. He finds the address of the lock changer, grabs his gun, and heads to the Hispanic man’s home with intent to kill him. This verifies him conforming to the views of Arab’s being “radical” and terrorists.
At the end of the movie, the viewers realize that the ammunition he had for his gun were actually blanks, and that is why no harm was done to the Hispanic or his daughter. Although the intent was the same, blanks or not, the Persian shopkeeper comes to an important realization upon firing his gun. Even though his substantive cohort and life chances are different, they are both quite similar on the inside. Each of the men had daughters who they cared about a lot. He demonstrates a change in his personality towards other cultures and despite Farhad judging the Hispanic as inferior to him, he comes to an epiphany near the end of film that alters his membrane and how he views the world.
Critique
In my opinion, Haggis’ film depicts aspects of the coalescence framework very well by illustrating the life chances of individuals based on their cohorts. However, his characters portray very shallow impressions. Although occasional moments are realistic, most of the film is on one extreme end of the spectrum and the creators of Crash believe that an individual’s opinion will only change if they are personally affected.
After watching a few interviews with the film’s production team, it was made clear that Haggis’ experience of being carjacked at gunpoint several years ago has great influence on the film’s underlying tone being the “fear of strangers.” Haggis’ interpretations of the rich and poor are well depicted and in an interview he states, “I hate the fact that as Americans, we just love to define people. We love to say, ‘Good person. Bad person.’ In this film, at least, I didn’t want us to be judging others. I wanted us to judge ourselves” (Simon, 2008). This explains why the movie is so extreme and the characters so exaggerated.
As human beings, our judgment is shaped based on our substantive birth cohorts, class, gender, age, and ethnic relations and I believe we do not need to ‘crash’ into each other to open our eyes to reality. In Haggis’ world, one alteration means everyone is a racist, two people bump into each other and it becomes a violent confrontation. If this were the case, there would be a bloodbath in Los Angeles daily and every other major urban location. I personally do not believe that ordinary people in Los Angeles are so radical.
The framework helps us understand the position of the individuals and their stance on life, with characters such as Anthony acutely ‘resisting’ his criminally driven attitude, Farhad altering his ‘membranes’ and becoming a more peaceful man, and Cameron ‘conforming’ to hints of his ethnic background and no longer being pushed around.
In conclusion, although Paul Haggis’ film depicts the characters in a fabricated manner, he effectively tackles the sociological theories of structural inequalities based on the characters’ substantive birth cohorts and gives them a complementary dialogue that displays their position in society and the way they view the world. The socio-economic context of the film also depicts a time of frustration toward the Arab world post-9/11. Furthermore, the film does well by focusing on problems by illustrating the root of the social problems in American society, above all, the vast inequality of wealth, class, and age, which infects every social relationship and situation.

Citations
Census, Population. (2005, December 8). Population distribution in 2005. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/files/dynamic/PopDistribution.pdf
McMullin, J. (2010). Understanding social inequality. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Rogers, EM. (1970). Homophily-heterophily: relational concepts for communication research. 34(4), 523-538.
Simon, A. (2008, January 6). Paul haggis: crash course. Venice Magazine, January 2006, 1.

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...Reyes 1 Melissa C. Reyes Professor Marilyn S. Turner English M102 13 February 2016 Character Analysis “Saving Sourdi” by Nay-Lee Chai is a story of sisterhood from childhood to adulthood. The two main characters in the story are Nea, the younger sister and Sourdi, the older sister. The story is narrated by Nea and what she discusses is her difficulty growing up. Chai’s character is very relatable as we all have may have had some moments in our life when our parent’s have said something along the lines of what the girls’ mother says to Nea, “You not thinking. That your problem. You always not think!” (82). She also indirectly discusses the contrast between herself and Sourdi and how her aggressive thoughts and actions influence her decisions but also define who Nea is as a character. Nea is very much a static character from beginning to end. She does not develop at all at any point during the story. Nea from the get go is the protagonist in her sister’s life. The story starts off very dark as she describes that she was only eleven years old when she stabbed one of the drunk men in their families restaurant. She describes Sourdi as looking distressed when one of the men grabbed her and kept holding her tighter as her sister begged to be let go. Nea goes to the kitchen and sees a knife and that is what she saw as the solution to their problem. She leaves the kitchen with the knife and begins to wave the knife at the men. They start laughing and Nea Reyes...

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Free Essay

Character Analysis

...Freud Psychoanalytic criticism focuses on a work of literature as an expression in fictional form of the inner workings of the human mind. This means that authors write about what goes on in their subconscious life. They write about what makes them as a person without the author actually knowing it. Tillie Olsen, the author of “I Stand Here Ironing,” was born into a middle class working family. She was born before the Great Depression, which means she grew up during it. “ I Stand Here Ironing” took place during the Great Depression and the main character is Emily. Emily is the first born in the family and she was the only baby that was beautiful at birth. She is a loner who has always been self-conscious of her dark hair and complexion; this makes her insecure. Through out the story the reader learns what the mom had to go through in order to raise her children. At the beginning of “I Stand Here Ironing” an unknown character tells the narrator that her daughter Emily needs help. The mother then goes to explain that there is nothing she can do for her at this point. Emily grew up a beautiful baby but she was troubled by illnesses. Her father had to leave their family to go find work. This was a normal thing to do during the depression but it left her mother alone with her. In the story you learn that the mother would work any job just to provide for Emily. As Emily grew up her appearance changed and her skin got darker. She did not look as good as she did when she......

Words: 749 - Pages: 3