1 hour 45 minutes, Rated R for autopsies, surgeries, weird groping of internal organs
Fair Value of Crimes of the Future: $8.00. It sounds strange to call this the most essential and the most inessential of David Cronenberg’s films, but here goes it is the best Cronenburg primer, the best introduction to ‘here are the major themes and riffs of this artist’ but it lacks the dramatic punch that you might get from the weirdness of The Fly or Scanners.
There is a dead child at the heart of Cronenberg’s cinema. The Fly, Videodrone, The Brood– again and again, we are shown tableaux of unnatural and uneasy birth, men and women remonstrating over reproduction, expectation, and loss. Cronenberg is perhaps the most sexual but least sexy of film-makers- his film captures both the longing and the disgust, the wonder with the organic, a longing of penetration and exploration, a desire to see and to feel that is not reconciled with the bounds and mores of contemporary society.
As I watched Crimes of the Future, I thought to myself “David Cronenberg is making everything that Hollywood is not making. He is an auteur with too many things to say, too many ideas, and that proliferation of ideas and sub-plots and sub-themes will sabotage this film for a great many.
X-Men for Pretentious Hipster Intellectuals: In a toxic and rotting world, human biotechnology and evolution are in competition for survival. We begin the film with a child eating a rubbish bin, and it only gets stranger from there. “Surgery is the new sex”, as the bureaucrat Timlin (Kristen Stewart) relates to the protagonist Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen)- an exhibitionist beyond the wildest dreams of Clive Barker and Jim Rose. Saul’s art consists of participating in live televised surgeries which remove the strange possible tumours/ possible mutant organs which are growing within his body.
All of this is under the watchful eye of New Vice Unit, which is a policy agency charged with regulating the market of synthetic organs and genetic modifications which people are allowed, and tries to track the illicit black market that is modifying some of humanity beyond the realm of the human.
What follows is in the same realm as Gattaca and Repo: a noir set in a biopunk future, wherein Saul and his partner Caprice (Lia Seydoux) walk the line between government detectives and an underground of transhumanist bio-hackers. However, exposition is lacking, in favor of spectacle. This is one of Cronenburg’s best works as a cinematographer, but one of his worst as far a storyteller.
Who Will Like This Movie? In many ways, this film is a return to form to the ‘Master of Body Horror’ 1980s works- scalpels slash, internal organs are fondled, and there are sadomasochistic exhibitions of surgery and extreme body modification. Sadly, this film is lacking in suspense or terror. But it does go for the gross-out.
Who Won’t Like This Movie? If you’re not already into body horror, you’ll be grossed out- this is not a movie for the squeamish at all. Another problem of this film is that it’s set in such a far future that it’s somewhat unplugged from modernity. An average filmmaker might wander into Crimes of the Future and ask, ‘why is Viggo Mortensen cutting himself up in a crack house?’ All of the sets, meant to imply a crumbling future, ultimately undercut the theme of biological potential. It would have made more emotional and story sense if the big corporation at least had a shining and well-kept set. Cronenburg does not prosper from adopting a Dogma 95 approach. Incredible casting (Dierdre Brown), abysmal set design (Dimitra Sourlantzi) and drab costume design (Mayou Trikerioti).
The Film reflects the Film-Maker and the Film-Viewers Alike: This is David Cronenberg’s most post-modern film, one in which the protagonist is a clear metaphor for David Cronenburg himself, and his dialogues with the bureaucrats (Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart) are in fact reflections on his fan-base and their demand for more of his body horror weirdness.
Cronenberg’s saying that his creative process is an exorcism, a process of cohering and detaching his own anxieties about his aging and decaying body, his desires, and his fears for his family and children. And he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to cater to an audience, he does not exalt what he produces; he just regards it as necessary to his own survival and ability to function. He’s a man with an allergy to society- to the toxicity that it produces, both industrially and bureaucratically. He’s not a revolutionary or a prophet, or a snitch- just an organism trying to survive. It’s a potent portrait of humanity in the age of mass extinction.