David Cronenberg returns to his sexualized body horror roots in “Crimes of the Future”, his first feature in eight years. During the premiere at Cannes this year there were stories of people walking out during the first 10 minutes while those who stayed engaged in a 5-minute standing ovation. The redband trailer released recently also teases some truly bizarre visuals. But do these crimes live up to the hype?
The story takes place over a few weeks in the near future. Human evolution has rapidly accelerated, and the opinions are split on if these changes are a good thing or something to be squashed. A new agency has been set up to register and catalog all new human growths discovered. Whether these growths are new organs, with unknown purpose, or useless tumorous masses is debated by the characters in the film. We’re also told that all infections have disappeared and humans rarely feel pain anymore, outside of dreaming. This has led to a culture of cutting, mutilation, extreme body modification, and “desktop surgery.”
At the center of the narrative are two performance artists, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Saul’s body is mutating at an alarming rate, creating new organs every few weeks. When they locate a new growth, Caprice tattoos an image on it, and then surgically excises it in front of a live audience. The couple has become infamous for their unique brand of art and caught the attention of fans, zealots, and the government. Where they fit within this strange world, and where their true beliefs lie slowly unfold throughout the film.
The pacing of the movie is slower than one might expect, but it never fails to be captivating. Production Design had a field day on this film, filling every frame with visuals that are equally bizarre and beautiful. Cronenberg throws a lot of ideas and concepts into this film that keeps the viewer engaged. There is an almost satirical commentary on defining art, and the life of an artist existing in only three phases, “Art, Pain, and Sleep.” Also tossed around is a surprisingly optimistic commentary on human evolution on a planet we’ve ruined. This however is tempered with the cynical (and more realistic) suggestion that our government would do anything to put an end to positive changes in humanity. He also teases us with the possibilities of a life without pain and infection. What would people do just to feel something?
Unfortunately, the one nagging issue with “Crimes of the Future” is that it is just a tease. We’re teased with all of these concepts, a fascinating new world we haven’t seen before, machines that we’d love to know more about, and shadowy conspiracies, but there isn’t really any payoff. The film also teases us with how shocking it is supposed to be. Considering this is a Cronenberg movie, it never goes far enough, which is an odd comment to make when the climax includes a child autopsy. A number of his past features have deftly balanced the grotesque, the titillating, and the fascinating, but in a movie where we’re told “surgery is the new sex,” it’s underwhelming when a naked couple gets their jollies by nicking each other with a scalpel.
Crimes of the Future (2022)