Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) has a problem, but he has chosen to treat it as a gift. Affected by a recently discovered medical condition known as “accelerated evolution syndrome,” his body continues to produce new and unexplained internal organs — which, in order to survive, must be excised.
Rather than let things go to waste, however, he sells tickets to the surgeries, which he and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon, present as elaborate performance artworks. They’re far from the only show in this not-so-distant dystopian city: live surgery acts are popping up everywhere, such as a medley of seedy poetry parlors and Victorian anatomy lectures. But Saul’s new body parts give the pair the leading creative edge, and the two have become celebrities in their fields. Call it “life of the gland’s fat”.
You have to wonder if David Cronenberg, the breeding ground of monsters like Videodrome, The Fly and Crash, sees Saul as some kind of kindred spirit. And Crimes of the Future, which premiered tonight in the competition in Cannes, certainly feels inward in more ways than one. It sees the 79-year-old Canadian master return to a vein of overt body horror he’s been flung since 1999’s eXistenZ; it’s also his first completely self-generated project since, with no independent screenwriter or existing source material to build on.
The film shares a title with one of his earliest works, but nothing else. Gurgling on its own nightmare logic. It delivers the kind of numbing grotesquerie every fan hopes for: a quintessential tableau panning over Mortensen and Seydoux naked on a plinth, tenderly sliced by biomechanical scalpels. Before the festival, Cronenberg predicted that some spectators would clamber for the exits within the first five minutes, and on the first showing of the film, he was proved right. The film opens with a mother suffocating her eight-year-old son Brecken, who, like Saul, is an organ grower, blessed with a neo-digestive system capable of extracting nutrition from plastic.
The poor boy’s father (Scott Speedman) is a member of a cult that has been trying to bring about that evolutionary shift, and wants Saul and Caprice to use the boy’s cadaver to deliver a public moment of triumph. Meanwhile, there’s the Inner Beauty Contest to get ready for – a sort of surgical Oscars, in which Saul is seen as a frontrunner for Best Original Organ – as well as the attention of various mysterious parties.