Crimes of the Future Movie Review: David Cronenberg’s evasive mind-and-body-bender “Crimes of the Future” cracks open in its early moments, tracing a harrowing crime committed during some unspecified time in the future, in the grim corners of a near-derelict home, through a shocking sequence that plays like an oblique explanation of its title.
It’s a snappy, gorgeous prologue that serves as a portal into the writer/huge director’s fleshly world: a little child enters a filthy restroom and begins devouring garbage cans hungrily, like a newly minted vampire ready to feed his newfound hunger for blood. This betrayal of the human body as we know it would not, however, be the only (or even the most serious) crime we’d witness.
After witnessing the boy’s curiously unnatural taste for plastic, the boy’s horrified mother would murder her kid in a desperate act of desperation.
It makes logical, based on this confidently unsettling opening, that Cronenberg envisaged this story near the end of the twentieth century, in which our species has changed to sprout new organs and evolved to make the concept of pain nearly extinct. After all, that was the era that defined his carnal brand of cinema—namely, his preoccupations with the human body and the ways flesh intersects with mechanisms and advancements in modern technology—and it all but ended with 1999’s “eXistenZ,” before more visceral concerns (of course, still with body horror droplets) took over.
In that regard, “Crimes of the Future” (which shares only a title with a 1970 film by the filmmaker) finds “the king of venereal horror” operating in a universe that has earned him the title: you know, a world made up of the sliced torsos of “Videodrome,” the injured appendages of “Crash,” and the deliciously wicked eroticism that runs through it all.
All of these substantial physical and psychological signifiers are also the lifeblood of “Crimes of the Future,” if inevitably at times. With imagery that is purposefully and all-too-obviously evocative of some of the master’s prior work, one can’t help but notice a certain monotony or a fan-service-y inclination on times.
Cronenberg’s return to his classic method to analyze weighty fears about mortality and possibly even humanity’s impending annihilation is captivating. Would we have a fighting chance to survive in the long run if we didn’t feel pain if our bodies didn’t have a warning system that alerted us to our terminal limitations if unknown organs (or cancers) sprouted inside our torsos on a regular basis?
It’s a little surreal to think about all this existential dread in our (ostensibly) post-Covid world, where the threat of yet another variant and probable surge is proving to be mentally devastating. Perhaps, like the rebellious performance artist Saul Tenser (a stony, mysterious Viggo), all one can do is learn to live with and use the unknown.
While the celebrity showman expresses his displeasure with what’s been happening to his body, he does appear to have made something of it in the interim, working with former trauma surgeon turned Saul’s creative partner Caprice (a subtle and sophisticated Léa Seydoux, infusing the on-screen chaos with a swish of calm). The two have turned the entire surgery process into a performative display, possibly to find some meaning and confidence in the midst of wild unpredictability, or to leave something behind to counteract the crippling sense of emptiness. Frequently, the two perform live, see-it-to-believe-it surgery on Saul in front of an audience, pushing his body to its limits for the sake of art.
This technique has been described as a way to open the body up to new possibilities on several occasions. If suffering is antiquated, then the body itself can be transformed into art, according to the thesis. And what is all that sculpting, all that operative skin modification by human hands and ingenious surgical machinery if not a new sort of intercourse? What good is an open wound if it doesn’t invite oral sex?
Indeed, practically everything Cronenberg caresses with cinematographer Douglas Koch’s sensual camera has a coital quality to it, uncovering an otherworldly form of sexuality from the film’s copious machinery, physicality, and grotesquely exposed guts.
Timlin (Kristen Stewart, giving some comedic relief with her character’s muffled voice and endearingly awkward stance), a bureaucratic investigator from the “National Organ Registry,” tracks new organ growths alongside her sidekick Whippet, is one of those who secretly feel that sexiness (Don McKellar). Timlin, like everyone else, is tempted by Saul, and Stewart delights in Timlin succumbing to that temptation like a Ninotchka with a newfound taste for luxurious indecencies. (Believe it or not, the sequence where the young woman stuffs her fingers in Saul’s mouth is one of the film’s more kind moments.)
To be fair, how could she possibly resist all the intrigue? On the other side of the screen, you might be fighting similar cravings to enter the film and, at the very least, feel your way through famed production designer (and decades-long Cronenberg colleague) Carol Spier’s bloodcurdling imagination. Her sculptures, which range from a hovering, cocoon-like bed with buggy tendrils connecting Saul to clanking metals of machines, not only match all things Cronenbergian but also wink to the designs of “Alien.”
Overall, trying to make sense of the concepts at the heart of “Crimes of the Future” is a difficult task amidst a dense cast of characters—including Scott Speedman’s mysterious commander and a noteworthy Welket Bungué’s complex detective—and open-ended ideas unsure of what to do with themselves. Yes, this operatic science fiction is littered with half-baked stabs at evolution, societal chaos, and the agony of environmental ecosystem extinction, the ultimate evil perpetrated by humans. Still, pondering these questions amid a procession of eye-popping body horror, from sewn lips and eyeballs to ears growing out of every inch of one’s body, is nothing short of overwhelming.
It’s not groundbreaking, and it’s more unsettling than frightening. But it’s still provocatively furious stuff from Cronenberg’s lost vintage annals.
The film will premiere on June 3rd.