To describe David Cronenberg’s latest work “Crimes of the Future” as mere body horror is to do it a small disservice.
Make no mistake, this picture is very much a return to the world of the grotesque, an area where Cronenberg is a master, but the film’s screenplay (written by the director) holds much more.
The soul of the film has something important to say about our self-destructive tendencies. As we pollute our environments both outside and in, Cronenberg’s latest piece finds our bodies beginning to rebel. In this future world, the body grows new organs, trying to move us beyond pain. The “affliction” is called Accelerated Evolution Syndrome.
As in many Cronenberg tales, pain does indeed become pleasure. Here, as one character puts it, “Surgery is the new sex.”
Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) has AES and has turned it into performance art. Saul’s partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), performs live operations for an audience, removing his ever-growing organs. The onlookers are captivated, and Caprice gets to say something deeper about humanity.
Saul and Caprice encounter Wippet (stellar Canadian actor/director Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart in another excellent performance).
The two run the National Organ Registry (people with AES must register all new organs). Both are in awe of the surgical performance art, especially Timlin, who finds a sexual freedom in it all.
Stewart glows in her role. Her scenes with Mortensen have a sharp, dangerously sexy tone. The two actors share a wonderful scene where their characters are alone in a room. Timlin begins seducing a suddenly timid Saul. The way Cronenberg stages this moment and how Stewart and Mortensen play off one another, the scene becomes a cinematic tango of seductive power. It is a marvelous moment.
One of the film’s mistakes is how Stewart’s character isn’t used much after building such an intriguing person. The screenplay gives her some good dialogue and a couple of captivating scenes, but the picture finds nothing much else to do with her. It was a dramatic error to discard this unique and interesting character.
Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman) is a compelling Cronenberg creation. His story gives the film a deeper emotional pull. At first seemingly sinister, he is revealed to be a man with a soul who is trying to save humanity from ruin.
The tragedy Dotrice must endure and how he uses this was the cause for walkouts at the Cannes Film Festival, and I am sure some American audiences will revolt in disgust. This would be a mistake, as the power of the moment is at once a gut punch and a revelation about our humanity. If a viewer is brave, they will be rewarded with a disturbing yet powerful (and moving) sequence.
Cronenberg has tackled many of these themes before. Where the story has the bleak outlook of his films “Videodrome” and “eXistenZ”, Cronenberg seems to have hope (however small) in our fates. He wants us to survive but argues that we must continue to evolve or it will all come to an ugly end.
Through this cinematic treatise, the filmmaker puts sharp focus on a modern society that is too terrified to be progressive about anything. When we cease to evolve, we have sealed our own fates. Self-annihilation is unavoidable. Our bodies can only help us for so long in an unlivable world of our own creation.
Cinematographer Douglas Koch creates a gripping visual bleakness, at the same time achieving an eroticism as the grotesque and the sexual meet in the way only Cronenberg can do it.
There IS a certain sensuality to the film but its carnality vibes more with the director’s divisive 1997 masterpiece “Crash” than most of his other works. The sex may be unpleasant for the audience, but for the characters they are finding new heights of their own sexuality. For some, their lustful vigor might be infectious.
Production Designer Carol Spier works her magic once again. The two have worked together for years and have created the perfect symmetry. When one thinks of the term “Cronenbergian”, Spier’s work (tentacles, machines that seems alive, etc.) plays a big part.
Spier fills the picture with strange tentacled beds, pods, and other grand designs of the twisted and the bizarre. As with most David Cronenberg works, this one is an unsettling visual delight with Howard Shore’s score cementing the film’s aural pleasures.
Despite being consistently interesting and inventive, the picture hits a few snags. After introducing a seemingly important character (Welket Bungué’s detective who works for New Vice, the squad put together to investigate body crimes), the film finds nothing for him to do other than exist as exposition. With all the screenplay’s prime dialogue, it was disheartening to hear the dull lines he was given.
Cronenberg stumbles in the final act as well. The film’s finale promises sparks but feels as if it throws up its hands, coming to an abrupt halt. The ending fails the final shot, which reaches for a spiritual euphoria and symbolic reverence that just doesn’t hit.
With its intimate settings, the scope of the film is small, but its philosophies are large and Cronenberg makes everything work well for most of its running time.
While this isn’t one of the filmmaker’s best (I truly believe it impossible for him to make a bad film), “Crimes of the Future” is still a provocative, absorbing, and unnerving commentary on society’s treatment of Mother Earth and how it affects our survival.
Like it or loathe it, you won’t see a more challenging film this year.