Crash: An Ethical Obstacle Course

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Area: Film
Grade Level: High School & Beyond
Topics: ethics, Film Studies
Estimated Time Necessary: 3-4 hours

Lesson Plan

The Application of Ethical Thought to the Study of Film
The objective of this lesson is to engage students in serious ethical discussion about a contemporary film. The ethical issues that the 2004 film "Crash" raises are complex and entangled. Students can attempt to sort out the ethical complexity by applying ethical frameworks to the film.

Crash, directed by Paul Haggis, weaves together the lives of several characters from multiple backgrounds who collide in the busy, often chaotic city of Los Angeles.  The movie revolves around a dozen or so characters from various ethnic, racial, and cultural background whose lives entwine and entangle, often with unpleasant consequences.  In the film, racism and prejudice are multi-directional and layered. No single character is innocent; racist characters are heroic; sympathetic characters perform immoral acts.  Crash, winner of best picture in 2004, is notable for its ethical complexity. In Crash, life is a mess; right and wrong are hard to discern; ethical choices are complex.

Crash is an excellent film for an ethics course or a philosophy course with a significant ethical component.   The film is widely available; it is 1 hour and 52 minutes long.  Steer students to the IMDB page on Crash to begin.

The film works best after a unit on ethics or after having covered and discussed a few different ethical systems or core ethical readings. Dedicate two hours plus of class time to watch the film.  Pausing to reflect, comment etc. is a useful strategy when teaching film. Especially attend to sorting out the character names and roles. There are many of them. Make sure students note the character names as they watch the film.

Use this attached crash-discussion-sheet-ethics-plato as a template for your discussion.  The worksheet lists 12 major characters and asks you to discuss them based around a given criterion.  The attached sheet offers four criteria, but you might add two more. It might be useful to start with more approachable criteria: “Which character is most sympathetic?” or “Which character would you want to have over for dinner as a guest in your home?” etc. From there, move to more philosophical questions.  You might rank each character according to a deontological ethics and in a second column vis a vis a utilitarian or consequentialist ethical approach.

Please copy and adapt the form to your needs. Perhaps you are discussing virtue ethics or natural law. You can adapt the questions and rank characters according to those paradigms.

Warning. Crash is rated R. It contains mature themes and content. It is best suited for the upper high school grades and college.



Discussion Questions

  • See the attached Crash Discussion Sheet for several questions to trigger discussion.
This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: William Mottolese, Sacred Heart Greenwich.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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