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Crash: A Psychological Film Review

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Summary of the Film

The film describes the separate circumstances of different people living in Los Angeles whose lives crisscrossed in a series of unfortunate events like car accidents and criminal activities within a short period of time.  In the encounters of the characters who are strangers to each other, the film depicted the conflicts that arose between and among them that emanates from different incompatible interests which especially rises from racial differences and stereotypes that each character have.

Detective Graham is blackmailed by the D.A. office to conceal evidence against a corrupt black cop killed by a racist co-policeman by threatening the arrest of his criminal brother, Peter who along with Anthony, hijacked a car of a black director, Cameron.  Incidentally, these two also stole the car of the DA, Rick while driven by his wife, Jean. Early on, Cameron was pulled over by a racist cop, Officer Ryan, who molested his wife during an inspection to the disgust of his partner, Officer Hansen, who later shot a hitchhiker he picked, that happened to be Peter.  Later on Officer Ryan had a chance to risk own life to save Cameron’s wife Christine, whom he earlier molested in a fiery car accident. Anthony on the other hand towards the end of the movie car naps a van full of illegal Chinese immigrants, which he released after a moment of guilt.

In another incident, Daniel Ruiz, a Mexican locksmith also fixed the house door of the DA came to offer to a distrustful Persian store owner, Farhad to fix their shop door, which the latter did not pay attention to.  When his store was robbed, he became infuriated exacerbated by the fact there were racists writings placed on their store and the insurance company’s refusal to pay their claims for their own negligence.  He broke into Daniel’s house and accidentally shot Daniel’s daughter, who was never really hurt because blank bullets were sold to Farhad.

Cognitive Dissonance

The essence of cognitive dissonance was conspicuously prevalent among the characters of the film particularly in the conflicts that emerge during their encounters when conflicts of self values and outside interests arise.  Cognitive dissonance refers to the state of uncomfortable tension felt or experienced by a person when two contradictory thoughts are simultaneously entertained in one’s mind resulting to a indecisiveness to an issue.  Dissonance usually transpires when there is a perceived personal inconsistency in ones thoughts which translates to anxiety, guilt and emotional states. A compelling cause of dissonance is when an idea clashes against a person’s self image which usually dictated by one’s set of established principles. (Hamachek, 1971) Feelings of foolishness and anxiety are suffered for having made an erroneous decision with the predilection to rationalize or seek justifications to support one’s choice.  Nevertheless, certain aspects of the rejected choice engage the person to remain confused and disoriented.

The intensity of the dissonance is amplified with the value and significance of issue involved, the weightiness of the disagreeing ideas and the person’s capacity to rationalize or justify one’s resolution to do away with the conflict.  To liberate oneself from the tension, the person can change his/ her behavior by yielding into any of the conflicting ideas. As bluntly stated in the famous adage, “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield into it”.  (Wilde et al, 1959) Another way is to rationalize things either by altering the disagreeing cognition or finding more justifications for one’s decision.

Cognitive Dissonance in the Movie

There are many instances where cognitive dissonance is demonstrated in the scenes of the film that happened among the characters. One is Anthony’s freeing of the illegal immigrants in the van the he earlier stole, which considering Anthony’s racist appetite and  criminal background, is a rather benevolent act.  The film depicted that his actions were more motivated by sympathy towards the illegal immigrants rather than the more practical objective of not being caught.  “Sympathy or empathy increases helping behavior because it evokes altruistic motivation”  (Dillard and Pfau, 2002)

However, the most striking instance of cognitive dissonance that is associated to another dissonance felt by another character is that of Officer Hansen’s accidental shooting of Peter Waters.  Cognitive dissonance was felt by Hansen considering that he presents himself and intends to be a good cop as manifested by his request to be reassigned to single man patrol following his revulsion against his racist patrol partner who molested a civilian earlier on.  Moreover, his killing of Peter was legally unjustifiable and regretful because Peter wasn’t in the act of committing a crime nor did he aggressively threaten Hansen in anyway.  Hansen decided to hide his association in the Peter’s death by making the scene look like an accident of a stolen car. In which case, Hansen may have found greater external justification for his decision that’s why he was able to reduce his dissonance and decided as he did.  Waters is a wicked criminal who faces lifetime imprisonment anyway and he is a big threat to society.  “One way to escape dissonance and create balance was to perceive the plight as not so bad or perceive the confederate as unworthy.” (Clark, 1997)

More importantly and that which connects to another instance of cognitive dissonance, Peter’s death can further relieve his brother, Detective Graham from the blackmail of dishonestly helping a black corrupt cop be a hero, placing a racist yet innocent white cop in jail, getting involved in the D.A.’s deceptive political maneuvers and getting promoted because of a fraudulent deed.  Incidentally, these circumstances also placed Detective Graham in a state of cognitive dissonance.  Acting otherwise against the DA office’s wished is the blackmail that will further dig his criminal brother into a lifetime imprisonment threat and further impair the already tainted reputation of the black community and the postponement of his promotion.

The after-Peter’s death-dissonance experienced by Detective Graham can be lessened because he will not have a brother to attend to anymore. The intensity of the dissonance may wane because one of the major conflicting issues which involved saving his brother is eradicated with the brother’s death.  In which case, Graham will be more inclined to reveal the truth about the corrupt black cop even if he jeopardizes his ambitions to be promoted.  If however, Graham finds out that there is a foul play involved in his brother’s death which concerns another white cop, Officer Hansen, this can provoke Graham’s complete loss of faith towards the corrupt justice system which in turn can motivate him to conceal the truth and prefer that a racist white cop who shot the corrupt black cop be jailed.


Cognitive dissonance is a common phenomenon that people experiences in practically all decision making challenges they face in daily life especially dilemmas or situations were one is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.  Because it involves the clash of thoughts and ideas which in turn incites emotional anxieties and similar feelings of confusions, external justifications and rationalizations play a critical role in overcoming the dissonance and making decisions. “Rationalizations are attempts to reduce the dissonance by inventing reasons why the decision was made”.  (Rapoport, 1995) As noted in the cited plot in the film, Graham’s decisions can be affected with the death of his brother in different ways.  Peter’s death can incite Graham to reveal the truth about the corrupt black cop because it reduces his concern for his brother that can lessen his dissonance.  But if he discovers that Peter’s death is another treacherous form of justice, he can be tempted to place the white people outside the realm of human sympathy, abolishing conventional and moral fetters against brutality and injustice. In which case he can be impelled to conceal the truth about the corrupt black cop and let the white racist cop killer rot in jail to avenge the injustice against his brother and his race.


Clark, C. (1997). Misery and company: sympathy in everyday life. 2nd edition. University of Chicago Press, pp47-49

Dillard, J.P. and Pfau, M (2002). The persuasion handbook: developments in theory and practice. Abridged edition. Sage Publications.  p110

Hamachek, D.E. (1971). Encounters with the Self. 2nd edition. Holt, Rinehart and Winston Press.

Rapoport, A. (1995). The Origins of Violence: Approaches to the Study of Conflict

2nd Edition Transaction Publishers, pp 85-87

Wilde, P, Redman, A and Holland, V. (1959). The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde: (formerly Published under the Title The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde). Courier Dover Publications, 1959

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