There are many characters in the movie “Crash” that catches one’s attention. Yet, for the purposes of this paper, Officer Tom Hansen, played by Ryan Philippe in the movie, shall be discussed. In the controversial movie, Crash, Hansen is a rookie cop whose partner, Officer Ryan (played by Matt Dillon) was portrayed as a bigot.
On this particular film, their assignment was to locate a missing vehicle reported to have been stolen by African Americans in one of L. A. ’s posh neighborhoods. As a young officer, he was subject to the authority of his partner, who seemed to have unconventional ways of which he did not approve of.
In the beginning, he instinctively questioned his partner’s seemingly cruel treatment of African-American members of the community. He witnessed, for example, his partners maltreatment of a couple who they caught performing fellatio inside their car. In a scene in the movie, Officer Ryan uses force and authority in molesting the women (played by Thandie Newton) while the husband (played by Terrence Howard) looked on helplessly. When Hanson tried to intervene, he was intimidated by his partner and he was forced to do go back to the car and do nothing.
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This created an animosity between the partners. Later on, he asked to be re-assigned to work with another officer. In the course of this exercise, Hanson find himself working alone and incidentally, crossed paths with the African-American husband whose wife his partner molested the night before. In the new situation, he was trying to pacify Mr. Cameron Thayer, as he had just reversed a situation when 2 young African American males tried to hi-jack his car. When Officer Hanson came to the scene, Mr. Thayer was threatening to shoot the delinquent who tried to steal his car while the police in turn, were ready to shoot him.
Officer Hanson, in an effort to make up for his partner’s mistakes, pleaded with his fellow officers as he attempted to calm Mr. Thayer down until he submitted his weapon. The story goes on to show how Mr. Hanson is exposed to the multitude of perspectives and manifestations of prejudice in his workplace and his encounters. Later on during the day, on his way back home, ponderous on the prejudiced encounters he had, he accommodated a hitch hiker, who was of African American descent.
Officer Hanson’s mind, full of the conflicts he witnessed and his own confusing thoughts, tragically succumbs to the paranoia in his mind and ends up shooting his passenger whom he thought was carrying a gun. His innocence and his moral confidence shattered, he intensified the act by running away from the responsibility when he threw the body on the side of the road ad burned the car. The character of Officer Hanson was portrayed to experience, both roles conflict and role strain. In the film, Crash, Hanson’s role strain stems from his status as a police officer.
Case in point, during his partner’s molestation of the director’s wife (Thandie Newton), he was torn between his duty to maintain protocol as a partner, and his duty to the citizens in protecting their rights. In roles strain, there is a difficulty in resolving issues concerning a single, particular role that is played by an individual. In this instance, Officer Hanson makes was not able to work out the strain, initially but he tried to make up for it by saving the director, Mr. Thayer from getting into more trouble with the law.
On the other hand, role conflict arises from a difficulty in resolving issues that involve the different roles an individual plays in society. In Officer Hanson’s case, role conflict arose when he shot his passenger on his day off. In this case, there is a conflict because in status, he is a police officer and it is his duty to report crime and enforce the law. However, in this situation, he is the perpetuator of a crime and he could not turn himself in. Officer Hanson was not able to resolve this role conflict when he opted to follow the instinct of self-preservation and made measure to cover up his crime.
The stress that the character experienced led to the performance of a deviant act. In the movie, Officer Hanson ended up committing a crime. Further more, he did not submit himself to the law, instead, he covered up the act by burning is car and throwing the body on the side of the road. In this instance, his paranoia and his state of mind at that moment, after encountering several instances of prejudice which stuck into his consciousness, might have contributed to his act of deviance.
Although, the shooting of the passenger could have been viewed as an act of self-defense, he crossed over to the side of deviance by not taking responsibility of his actions. Among the Theories of Deviance, one that is most related to Officer Hanson’s character is the Labeling Theory. This character, primarily wanted to be a “good cop”. That was why he wanted to get away from Officer Ryan, who was portrayed as a bigot. However, his exposure to the reality of social encounters and the labels that people throw at each other created some form of confusion in his mind.
Though he set out to be an idealistic and optimistic type of person, the labeling of the races he encountered, particularly the African Americans, affected his judgment and his suspiciousness made him succumb o the paranoia that seemed to be gripping other officers in his profession. The mistaken belief of both Officer Hanson and his young passenger Peter Waters (played by Larenz Tate) stemmed from the labels that the society they lived in assigned to the different kinds of people residing in the community and this eventually led to both to their demise.
In the film, the audience witnesses the internal struggle Officer Hanson faces in his experience as a rookie police officer. It can be said that he tried to triumph over the prejudices that were prevalent in his coworkers but. He was striving to be fair to all the people of different races and ethnicities he encountered. In his own way, we seemed to be trying to make up for what the other people of his race were exhibiting. He did not approve the acts of injustice which he saw being performed on people of other races, particularly the African-Americans.
However, Officer Hanson eventually gave in to the predisposition of his ethnicity, even unknowingly. He is of the Caucasian race. A comparative study made on Caucasian and African Americans show that “from birth, Caucasians have a racial internal solidarity mechanism. Regardless of income or geographical location, Caucasians instinctively bond with each other and not African Americans to amass wealth and power. (White, 2007) In the character of Officer Hanson, it may be that he instinctively reacted to a situation based on what people of his race have grown accustomed to.
Although he tried to fight against it, he still could not shake it off easily. Unknowingly, he responded to a shared consciousness and upheld the value of self- preservation. Race refers to differences and similarities that are relatively similar in biological features and recognized by society as significant to set these group of people apart. (Jones, 2005) The Study by White further states “Caucasians have an internal racial cohesive mechanism and believe in racial solidarity. Caucasians understand that solidarity groups amass wealth and power.
Once wealth is amassed through cohesion, Caucasians determine who gets what resources, when they get those resources, how many resources they get, and how long the resources are allocated. Solidarity preserves the Caucasian race, and ensures that group members are privileged. Caucasians understand the premise behind racial cohesion, and they view cohesion as racial solidarity. Although these definitions cannot directly explain the choices made by the character of Officer Hanson, it gives one an idea of the prevailing value system existing within the community of his ethnicity.
It is perhaps, more important to consider is his selective perception of the situation in viewing his responses to certain situation in the film. Selective Perception is how humans interpret particular encounters and experiences based on their own judgment, as influenced by their background, their state of mind and their value systems. In the case of Officer Hanson, his eventual commission of a crime resulted from his perception of the situation he was in. It can be inferred that this perception was influenced by his current experiences but it could also be from his own value systems and his existing frame of mind.
Although, he appeared to be a person who would opt to do the right thing, who tried to rise above the everyday conflicts of race that he came across, in the end, he became a victim of his own selective perception. In trying to balance his conflicting roles and in trying to sort out his own feelings, he was in a perpetual state of guardedness. Consequently, he was not able to clearly assess the situation and over estimated its gravity. This selective perception leads to the demise of the recipient of his guarded paranoia and undefined hostility.
In the end, his role and self- perception was completely altered as well.
Jones, Richard A. (2005) Race and Revisability Journal of Black Studies 35, 612-632.
Henslin, James (2007) Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach. (7th Ed.).
Pearson: Allyn & Bacon White, Stephen (2007) “Variables that Inhibit Middle and Upper Class African Americans From Achieving Racial Cohesion”. National Social Science Association. 21 April 2008 <http://www. nssa. us/journals/2007-27-2/2007-27-2-18. htm>.
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