Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.
David Cronenberg is long thought of as the king of body horror for good reason. He’s been off that trend for some time, doing much more mainstream films like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence that have some horror elements but aren’t really horror films. He’s also not done much for the last decade, so Crimes of the Future was kind of a surprise. It’s a pleasant surprise in a lot of respects. First, I’m always happy to see Cronenberg behind the camera, even when the results are less than great. Second—and importantly—this is a return to what Cronenberg is known for, and that’s exciting.
Crimes of the Future feels like the culmination of a lot of Cronenberg’s work from his body horror days. Certainly, the idea of things going on inside the body is a theme that runs through his work up to the point of eXistenZ. There is a lot here in terms of bizarre organic machinery, much like eXistenZ, Naked Lunch, Videodrome, and Dead Ringers. There’s a lot of connection between sex and pain/death, like Shivers and especially Crash. This might be the most Cronenberg film ever made. It hits all of his tropes.
We start with the murder of a child by his mother, and this is not nearly the most upsetting thing that we are going to see in the next 107 minutes. We are in a world where human evolution ahs continued in strange directions. Most of the people in this world no longer experience physical pain, and the concept of infections no longer seems to be a thing. This means that people essentially have surgery performed on them while they are awake because there is no pain response to anything, and there is no real reason to keep things overly sanitary.
But it’s more than that. People are now starting to develop new organs in their bodies, new glands that have unknown functions. Because of this change, there are those in power who want to prevent human evolution from continuing down this “non-human” path. Additionally, surgery has become performance art, with no one more renowned than Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux). Tenser is known for growing new organs that Caprice tattoos while they are still in his body and then removes in public performance art pieces. Saul suffers terribly for this, being forced to sleep in a bed that adjust to his pain as well as needing a special chair to help him eat.
Crimes of the Future is a descent into this world of bizarre and terrible art and human body modifications. We will, over the course of the film, see performances that include a sort of live autopsy on Saul as a new organ is removed from his body. There’s also an actual autopsy that happens later in the film, a performance piece by a man with his eyes and mouth sewn shut and with additional ears all over his body, and more. There is a great deal of self-mutilation as a form of expression.
Through all of these, there are connections to an unofficial government office that is designed to catalog and categorize all of the new human organs that have been developed. The two in the office, Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart) are themselves connected to the surgical underground, showing up at events that they shouldn’t even know about and witnessing the sort of art they are supposed to be stopping. It’s also evident at the margins initially but soon becomes fully expressed that in this future world, sex has more or less been replaced by surgery. Slicing into each other is the new sex. And through all of this, there is an undercurrent of change that some want and that perhaps cannot be stopped, that evolution and mutation is going to happen and lead us to an inevitable sort of post-humanity, an urban species that is attuned to living in the world that it has created.
So here’s the thing—Cronenberg can be kind of an acquired taste, and you need to appreciate his work to get through this. This is brutal and nasty, although it’s worth saying that the autopsy moments of this, while unpleasant in a lot of ways, are incredibly fake. There’s a moment at the end that is a disturbingly bad special effect, one that comes across as almost comic and it can’t have been intended that way. But beyond that, this is a movie that is extreme in a lot of ways. Crimes of the Future is transgressive from start to finish, and if you’re not okay with that, you’re not going to be okay with this.
I’m not sure if I liked this. I think I did, but it’s going to take me a few days to digest and really come to a solid opinion. But, like it or not, it does cause a reaction in the audience one way or another.
Why to watch Crimes of the Future: It might be the most David Cronenberg film in history.
Why not to watch: Just…Jesus Fuckin’ Christ.