Intercultural Differences: A Movie Analysis

What happens when you take people with drastically varying racial backgrounds, religious beliefs, cultural patterns, and varying degrees of life experience and mix them together? The movie, Crash, answers that question by taking a close look at the proverbial melting pot of racial differences and tolerance.

Cultures from all over the world had a small piece of screen time throughout the movie, but the largest focuses were on the cultural differences between the black and white population in Los Angeles and the dissension between Americans and Middle Easterners shortly after the September 11th, 2001 attacks. The latter only had minute implications, whereas the former was covered in more detail. Each culture has its own intricacies in their patterns, and some of those intricacies were shown in full detail.

While the message of the movie shows a side of racial intolerance that transverses all planes of bigotry, the real story tells of a deeper connection with human relations. By analyzing the intercultural differences and ideas within the movie, it becomes possible to get a better sense and feel for what it takes to coincide with different cultures within one nation.

Stereotypes fill the screen in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Even though these stereotypes shine through in a terrible way, it also paints a realistic picture of some of the trials and tropes that each culture faces in identity. An essentially clear picture is painted throughout the movie that tells a story of the struggle of living within each culture’s community. There is, however, an enlightening outlook on several aspects of certain cultures that really helps better understand what each culture is born into or acclimates over time.

The majority of the cultural identity shown in the movie is through race. The first example of cultural identity is shown early in the movie as the introduction of two black males having a conversation about race takes place. One of the men spends a good majority of his time talking about his attempts at acclimating to the likes and dislikes of white people. The other, however, abhors the idea of white culture and speaks directly to the effect of how black people are forced to live differently because of the white culture that suppresses them. This is further proof that cultural patterns do not apply to every single person of a particular culture. Even though the scene is just a few minutes in length, it provides an interesting look into the outlook and cultural identity of the black community in Los Angeles.

Shortly after the talk between the two characters, they notice several of the things they are talking about happening around them. Then, they proceed to fill in the stereotypes of which they just spoke. After stealing a car, one of the characters justifies his actions by saying that he only takes from those that have much to lose and how he would never steal from somebody of his own race. Later in the movie, he is faced with that dilemma as he accidentally tries to rob another black person. He soon realizes his mistake and attempts to quell the situation. After a stint with the police, the two men head on their way, clearly changed and different because of the entire affair.

One could argue that the cultural arena of these men’s lives have shaped their psyches into certain cultural behaviors. As it is continually shown throughout the movie, racism is prevalent in so much of the men’s lives, and their cultural patterns, mindsets, identities and personal biases all stem from the environment around them. One of the men believes all of the racism occurs because of what he has witnessed within his own culture, what he has seen happening since he was a small child. The other man grew up in a different kind of home, thus his views are askew to that of the original man.

Elsewhere in the movie resides a man and woman with a lot of money, power, and status, and they are both white. The wife immediately makes assumptions regarding the Hispanic community, both from the housekeeping staff, as well as a locksmith that is helping change the locks at the house. The movie even goes so far as to show us how intensely incorrect the wife’s assumptions are by giving us a glimpse into the personal life of one of the Hispanic characters. He lives in a nice house with a wife and daughter, but the white woman jumps to her conclusions because of a few tattoos and the color of the man’s skin.

A common theme throughout the movie is the idea that cultural bias and identity both play a pivotal role in the judgments and choices of everybody. The movie title implies that these cultural differences all crash into each other and cause irreparable damage and destruction. This is a naïve outlook as many positive things happen as well. Some characters have revelations and make decisions based solely on the idea that humans, without all of the cultural differences, are the same. Some characters spend a majority of the movie insulting and hurting people of other races only to turn around and save a life of that race.

Perhaps the most startling cultural bias exists in a small scene in the movie where a black police chief is forced to deal with a police officer that has been acting racist. The police chief is caught between the fact that he detests the idea of a racist cop that is acting inappropriately and the fact that his job is not easy for a black individual to acquire. Because of that conundrum, the police chief refuses to do anything about the situation. He realizes that speaking out could very well lead to his termination, and he knows that getting another position like his would be nigh impossible. The bias simply exists because the man assumes he will be in a worse spot by doing the right thing.

Each culture’s identity is shown in a negative light, yet somehow it tells a troubling story of each culture’s plight. What is considered prejudice against that culture and what is outright justified? The movie attempts to answer those questions by showing us that there are many forms of communication that can both help and inhibit all cultural aspects. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is abundant throughout the film that helps paint a landscape of the cultural identities, biases, and otherwise.

In the beginning, there is a clear and present show of non-verbal communication between several characters. First, a white woman, out with her husband, pulls him close and hugs him carefully as two black men approach them. Even though the characters are in a well-lit, posh-like area, the woman is immediately scared of the men because of her cultural biases and assumptions. The men immediately sense her fear and comment on the action.

Next, a gun shop owner continually crosses his arms, sticks out his chest, and scowls while talking to a man of Middle Eastern descent. The owner clearly does not feel comfortable selling a gun to the man because of the recent attacks on New York, and even though he eventually expresses it verbally, his entire body says the same thing. Once he starts dealing with the man’s significant other who speaks perfect English, he lightens his mood, although his body language continues to be aggressive and aggravated.

Finally, we follow one of the detectives in the movie as he continually feels under-valued. He dresses well, carries himself with confidence, speaks with no dialect to suggest he comes from any kind of particular culture, and seemingly appears to be a good cop. On the contrary, although this is all true, he has a thing about touching people. With the exception of one intimate scene, he always seems to shy away from the idea of physical touch of any kind. Perhaps it is his personal feeling of inadequacy that causes him to dislike the idea of touch. Perhaps it is the abandonment he has felt his entire life and how his actions, no matter how pure or trusting, have still put him in the backseat of most people’s minds. Either way, his lack of touch is a telltale sign of his psyche.

Even though some non-verbal language is universally known, the verbal side of things causes many problems throughout the movie. A Hispanic man has trouble conveying a message to a Middle Easterner. The Hispanic man, the aforementioned locksmith, tries to explain to the man how he could not fix the lock as it was the door that remained broken. The Middle Eastern man immediately assumed he was being cheated, but it was also partially because he had trouble understanding English in full.

Another case of verbal communication that caused friction was between a lawyer and the aforementioned detective. The conversation takes place because a white cop shot a black cop, and now the situation has escalated as the lawyer, who happens to be white, believes it will be about race in the end. The conversation immediately shifts to a topic of race as the black character has trouble understanding what the white character is saying. The lawyer uses candor to its fullest by being blunt, obvious, and over-the-top. Grit fills the voice of the lawyer as he verbally assaults the other race in a blunt way. No pleasantry can be heard in his voice, and the detective knows that nothing he says will change anything.

One intercultural communication theory that could be applied to the verbal and non-verbal communication in the movie is face-negotiation theory. Face-negotiation theory, in its simplest form, focuses on the idea that people from all cultures when posed with a disagreement will either attempt to save their own face or the face of the other person. This can be seen throughout the entire movie. Every action and word spoken by the characters in the film is directly correlated with their own beliefs and cultural identities. The entire movie is one large conflict, and the characters within spend their time attempting to either save their own face or make the other person look as bad as possible.

The detective is trying to prove his self-worth. The rich wife feels like she is being discriminated because nobody does anything right for her. The men in the beginning both want to prove that their actions and beliefs are correct. The gun shop owner wants to show that he is not afraid of the people that attacked his country. The locksmith wants to provide a good life for his daughter regardless of how people feel about him. All of these actions are based on the idea that the character’s face saving is taking place.

One theory that jumped out at me during the movie was Edward T. Hall’s theory of cultural factors and how heavily prevalent it was in displaying the message of the film. The inhabitants of the movie’s world all live in a relatively low-context society. While non-verbal communication is prevalent throughout, more focus is placed on the language and actions of the characters. Rather than the characters remaining silent or retracted, a high amount of external protest and action takes place. Much like the face-negotiation theory, much of the blame that is assigned goes to other people rather than one’s self. All of the characters, already outspoken and vibrant, have integrated different facets of their low context into their cultural patterns.

The first example can be seen in the scene with the rich husband and wife after they have been carjacked. Rather than giving a dirty look or pouting in the background, all of the cues of the conversation take place verbally and physically. The wife is overly outspoken about her beliefs on people of other races. She provides no hesitation to speak out about her feelings, regardless of who may be in earshot, whereas the black characters may think a certain way, but they learn when and where to speak their minds.

Nobody internalizes their thoughts, except in the rare occasions where one character is too afraid to speak. Instead, every character voices his or her opinion or emotions with hearts out in the open and on sleeves. Nothing is kept inside as they feel the need to voice their opinions in full. However, when the time comes to take responsibility for their actions, the characters immediately find another person to blame. Rather than taking full responsibility for the actions and words of their own lives, the characters always have an excuse as to why somebody else inhibited them from happiness or contentedness.

The message may differ based on the interpretation of the viewer, but one overall feeling can be elicited throughout. Regardless of the cultural biases, patterns, identities, opinions, or differing beliefs, everybody is human on every level. All cultures contain a strong bias that carries over into every single interaction throughout life. Every situation, from having a close and personal relationship with somebody, to just saying hello to the worker at a shop, has a drastic impact on life. Examining those impacts gives thoughtful insight into the minds of others and hopefully, with careful consideration and understanding, a more cohesive harmony can exist between different cultures. Crash does a phenomenal job of helping understand the differences in other cultures, which not only helps with overall communication, but allows for a better cohesion among humans as a whole.

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