Cannes: David Cronenberg’s hazy mood piece may not be as gross as advertised, but it’s also so much sweeter than expected.
Looking at David Cronenberg’s enticing new dream-noir – a twilight vision of tomorrow in which the next stage of human evolution is regarded, at least by some private self-conflicting bureaucrats, as a punishable rebellion against the nature of humanity itself – could I’m just thinking about the current plague of extremist politicians using their static interpretation of a 235-year-old document as justification to dictate what happens in living people.
Abortion may seem like a counter-intuitive analogy to a story arguing for the need to let nature take its course, but ‘Crimes of the Future’ is nothing but a film about the barbaric futility of trying to control new flesh. with old principles. Our bodies interpret the world our brains have created for them to inhabit, and anyone too stubborn or afraid to hear what they report probably doesn’t have the guts to survive whatever awaits us on the other side of the road. the horizon.
Whether you have the guts to survive “Crimes of the Future” seems like a more complicated matter. At a time when Holy shit you have to see this madness has become the quickest shortcut for arthouse fare to get around the ever suffocating layers of superhero movie hype, it was inevitable that Cronenberg’s first movie since “Maps to the Stars” would be positioned as some sort of sick endurance test that found him again the well-known preoccupations of body-horror classics like “Dead Ringers” and “The Fly,” so he could combine all their toughest moments into a career-spanning orgy of suffocating latex. The tone of the coverage leading up to the film’s premiere in Cannes was basically “any budding author can fuck a car, but only OG daddy Cronenberg can make love towards it.” The director even suggested that people start walking within the first five minutes.
What Cronenberg failed to specify is that those imagined onlookers—as unlikely as the crowd that supposedly fled in panic when the Lumière brothers pointed a train at them—would stomp down the aisles in response to tragedy, not blood.
Don’t get me wrong, “Crimes of the Future” is Cronenberg to the core, complete with a myriad of author blooms (the moaning organic bed the characters sleep in is a nightmare in itself) and catchphrases (“surgery is the new sex”) . At the same time, however, this hazy and strangely hopeful meditation on the macro-relationship between organic life and synthetic matter joins its more completely satisfying gross classics because of the way it moves forward.
Stoned and dusky in a way reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” as much as one of Cronenberg’s own films, “Crimes of the Future” shifts the director’s lifelong focus on the mutability of flesh into a more philosophical acceleration, the semi-cautious nature of his earlier work for a less aggressive study of transmutation. The worn-out story may follow an arc similar to that of ‘Crash’ and ‘Videodrome’, but the older Cronenberg now comes to the end with a wiser sense of acceptance. Where those earlier films had staged hostile takeovers on the human body, the hypnotic ‘Crimes of the Future’ sees the invasion coming from within – even in death it hears the faint sounds of a harmony.
Back to those hypothetical strikes. In a sequence whose dispassionate removal is typical of the film that follows, “Crimes of the Future” begins with a young boy playing on the rocky shores in front of his home, a capsized cruise ship jutting out of the water in the distance. It’s a fittingly slanted monument to an empty world that has moved aside; a world so ravaged by unspecified (but probably climate-related) horrors that the only humans who can bear it are those who have evolved beyond the ability to feel pain or pleasure. Some of them have evolved in other ways as well, as we infer when that same little boy eats a plastic trash can for lunch. Others are shocked, as we conclude when the boy’s mother promptly kills him with a pillow.
This sort of thing is probably not unheard of in the age of the Accelerated Evolution Syndrome, when people are developing so many new parts and behaviors that the government has created a National Organ Registry to keep track of them all (and maybe even the more promising mutations in the bud) .
Performance artist Saul Tenser (played by a phlegmatic Viggo Mortensen) is prolific enough to keep the NOR busy on his own. Kept alive by the aforementioned OrchiBed that reads its body and responds to the new organs that continue to grow within it, Saul has become a sort of unwell oracle for the evolutionary age. Context is hard to come by in Cronenberg’s elliptical script, but it seems that Saul’s body — and his willingness to portray its ever-changing content — has made him the biggest celebrity his world has left behind.
The key to this is his creative partner and personal surgeon Caprice (Léa Seydoux, glistening with wide-eyed wonder at every incision), who operates Saul with a sarcophagus-like “SARK” machine as part of the public shows they make of his “designer cancer.” Bodies have never been such a spectacle in a Cronenberg movie, but “Crimes of the Future” is always a quick reminder that inner beauty is all the rage these days. And no one steps out on the new sex like Caprice. Whether her relationship with Saul ever inspires them to have the old sex is an open question, but reproduction is just one of many different subjects that film tickles without touching.
Caprice isn’t the only one inflamed by the sheer possibility of Saul’s body being there. Even Timlin, the spluttering mouse girl who works at the NOR, can’t help but wave her bizarre flag at full mast every time Saul passes (she’s played by an underused but otherwise fantastic Kristen Stewart). There are also other players that revolve around Saul’s work, namely the dead boy’s mysterious father (Scott Speedman), his unrepentant mother (an inspired Lihi Kornowski), and the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-esque henchmen working for the SARK manufacturer. work and sometimes enjoy naked in the machine together for kicks (Berst and Router are played by Tanaya Beatty and Nadia Litz, whose carefree performances by Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are reminiscent of “Diamonds Are Forever”).
Most of the time, though, “Crimes of the Future” clings to Saul as he coughs through the city clad in black Sith robes and waits for another revitalizing session in his freaky SARK machines. The conspiracy swirling around him — something about synthetic foods and a more permanent evolutionary step — takes shape in the background, occasionally floating in view like a cloud that can’t decide if it’s ever going to rain. The casual plot adds to the film’s overall sense of weightlessness, as if the story itself isn’t sure how to develop from one scene to the next, and is overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of possibilities. Never mind, all of Cronenberg’s narcotic subplots and asides are “juicy in meaning,” to quote a line that Léa Seydoux delivers with more hisses than anyone else on Earth could possibly do.
Essentially, the idea of modified bodies unable to feel pain is just a playground for Cronenberg to play on different variations of a theme, and “Crimes of the Future” opens up to you once you accept it as more of a thick atmosphere than a thin murder mystery about the future of humanity. People are so horny to feel something in the ultra-stunned world of the film, and the different ways they search for thrills and new constructs of beauty – alone and together – continue to surprise until the bitter end.
So is the uncertain dynamic between Saul and Caprice, as Cronenberg finds a perversely touching sweetness in the way they face the future, alone and together, even as Saul’s body continues to turn against itself. As contradictory as he is about how to cope with the aggressive transformations of a body – and a world – that seems no longer inhabitable, there is something beautiful about Saul’s constant pursuit of creativity in the shadow of death.
In true Cronenberg fashion, “Crimes of the Future” does not fight for the old flesh at the expense of the new, nor cling to yesterday’s protocols in a futile and dehumanizing attempt to avert tomorrow’s possibilities. Rather, this sly but surprisingly warm gesture (of an artist in an aging body of his own) uses its premise to question the authorship of the human body, tap into the fear of losing it, and reach for the seductive embrace from what comes next. At one point, Caprice drops to her knees, unzips the fly that runs across Saul’s abdomen, and does something akin to oral sex on the gaping wound she exposes beneath; as Saul himself would put it: “Art triumphs again.”
“Crimes of the Future” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. NEON releases it in theaters on Friday, June 3.