Where do I find God in this world of tragedy and pain?

This is a world of tragedy and pain. It is also a world of joy and fulfillment. It is my conviction that God is present to us in both worlds.


Written by Bonnie Malone

Directed by Paul Haggis
Lions Gate, R rating

When people of faith go to the movies, they’re often on the lookout for spiritual content. For some films the search is more fruitful than for others. In the case of Crash, 2006's Academy Award® winner for Best Picture, the spiritually minded will not be disappointed. Crash tells the tale of those so desperate for human contact that they “crash” into one another, sometimes with incredible brutality. It has lots to say about the vulnerability and brokenness of humanity, and even a little to say about faith.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, Crash pieces together ethnically dissimilar characters who at first seem connected only by their reciprocal paranoia and willingness to do each other harm. In a movie overflowing with compelling moments, one seems to take precedent. It is when Daniel, the Mexican Locksmith, (who is arguably the most morally balanced and consistent character in the movie) gives an invisible cloak to his young daughter, Lara.

He knows that he is raising her in a frightening world; he has been out in it all day. But he responds to his daughter’s fear as a person of faith—by telling a story. After finding her hiding under her bed late at night, he gently places her on top of the bed and spins a marvelous fairy tale about an invisible cloak that can protect the one who wears it from all harm. As Lara listens, Daniel carefully places the imaginary cloak around her shoulders, lifting her hair so that it will not be pulled by the cloak’s weight, and fastens the clasp under her chin. His daughter believes with complete faith that the cloak will protect her, and in fact it will, but not exactly in the way we expected.

As a father, Daniel is protecting her young mind from the cruel reality of the world for just a little longer. But he has a similar beautifully faithful naiveté. He exhibits the conviction that doing the right thing, playing fair, working hard and caring for your family will ultimately keep you and your loved ones safe. And then he “crashes” into a storeowner who will challenge that conviction.

The storeowner, frustrated by crime, cultural barriers, and the prejudice that he faces as an Arab-looking man, puts his faith in something different than an invisible cloak. He buys a gun. He also loves his family, and the relationship he has with his older daughter bears a remarkable similarity to the one between Lara and Daniel. They go together to the gun shop. Once the gun is purchased, the gun seller makes a prejudiced remark that throws his customer into such a fit of rage, he must be escorted out of the store. His daughter is left to select the bullets. Does she know what she is choosing? The audience is left to wonder. Whatever the case, her choice fastens an imaginary cloak around her father’s neck.

As human beings, we often hope for an invisible cloak. We wish for something that will protect us from the vulnerabilities of being human, the danger of living in this world. As people of faith, Christians tell a far-fetched tale. The story presumes that our bodies are frail; that if we are terminally ill or mortally wounded or crucified, for example, we will die. But then comes the miracle—the cloak’s magic is realized. For Christians, dying is not the end; if you die, you will be resurrected.

Yet, there is an earthly cloak as well—it is us. A film like Crash can teach us that we are the potential protectors of one another, if we make the right choices. One could care for the poor, or confront the friend who is doing drugs, or visit a lonely neighbor, or even do whatever possible to ensure that every child has decent healthcare and a solid education. Not in all instances, but in some, the choices we make can become an invisible cloak to protect our human brothers and sisters.

When we fail to be that invisible cloak, and even when we are the perpetrators of brutality, change is still possible. Like each of us, the characters in Crash are human; they make mistakes. Even the ones we expect to be morally sound, like the rookie cop, are capable of murder. Even those who seem thoroughly depraved, like the racist cop, are capable of compassion. And those who make a simple choice to view another human being as holy rather than disposable can change lives forever, like the gangster who frees the a van-full of people who were sold into slavery. In an unpredictable and scary world, Crash’s plea for connection, for protection, for human dignity, is a cry for redemption we all should heed.

Copyright @ 2006 Bonnie Malone.