Perhaps because of the typical feel-good arcs of other (often fictionalized) stories like Pearce’s, it’s natural to hold out for the impossible-but-inevitable comeback. But it never happens. The Crash Reel is not a story about “the triumph of the human spirit”; it is a story about the mysteries of the human brain.
By paying attention to those subtle but disruptive lasting effects of Pearce’s crash, Walker’s film makes a strong case for more education and awareness about the risks of brain injuries in sports. There is perhaps nothing scarier than the prospect of an altered mind; whether suffering from dementia, an injury, or psychological trauma, a patient with a changed brain may look the same on the outside but experience major personality transformations.
And brain traumas are, of course, unique among sports injuries because often, it isn’t until excessive damage has been done that it becomes clear an athlete should discontinue training or competing. A knee or arm injury puts an athlete out of commission for a while, but repeated brain trauma can go unnoticed or may simply not deter an athlete until the point when the trauma is so dramatic that it becomes career-ending or life-ending. It’s obvious to everyone in the Pearce family (and entourage) that Kevin must not return to the halfpipe because a second crash, even a minor one, could now kill him. That is, it’s obvious to everyone but Kevin. When he announces over dinner that he plans to return to the sport, his parents and two older brothers, Adam and Andrew, sit speechless. But David, Kevin’s brother with Down’s Syndrome, has no qualms about addressing the grim reality of life after a TBI. “If you crash again, you will die,” David says. “I don’t want you to die.”