Crimes of the Future
by Hope Madden
Not everyone is going to enjoy Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg’s latest and perhaps most Cronenberg film. But Cronenberg fans will find plenty to enjoy.
Well, enjoy might not be the right word.
In a dreary world where “surgery is the new sex,” two performance artists (Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux) turn one’s mutant organs into art.
If that doesn’t sound like a Cronenberg movie, nothing does.
Saul Tenser (Mortensen) has evolutionary derangement, a common problem these days. The human body has started simply sprouting new organs, Tenser more than most. But he and his partner Caprice (Seydoux) expel them from his body, which is okey dokey with the New Vice squad and the New Organ Register’s office, run by a couple of people passionate about new organs: Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Wippet (Don McKellar).
From there, Crimes of the Future turns into a kind of science fiction detective thriller. In the cons column, it moves at times too slowly and there is one uncharacteristically weak kill sequence. In the pros, it’s unusually funny for the filmmaker. Also, there is still no one who delivers visceral, physical horror quite like David Cronenberg.
The king of corporeal horror hasn’t really made a horror film since 1988. He’s made moody, disturbing indies (Naked Lunch, Crash, eXistenZ, Spider) before producing two massively successful mainstream(ish) films: 2005’s A History of Violence and 2007’s Eastern Promises. Both earned Oscar nominations. Both were brilliant.
Cronenberg had a little more trouble finding his footing after that, never reaching the same degree of commercial or critical success and essentially retiring in 2014.
But more than 30 years after his last horror flick, Dead Ringers—one preoccupied with organ mutations, sex and surgery—Cronenberg returns to the ground that was most fertile in his early career. Literally, his latest effort concerns organ mutations, sex and surgery.
Crimes of the Future—like Crash and Videodrome—is specifically, grotesquely sexual. It plays like an ecological fable, though the theme, as stated by Lang Daughtery (Scott Speedman) remains the same: “It’s time for human evolution to synch up with modern technology.”
Turns out, it’s a theme that hasn’t outstayed its welcome. But it often feels like the movie is more about the filmmaker himself than it is about his thematic preoccupations. Indeed, Crimes of the Future is so Cronenberg it’s almost meta.
The film references, directly or indirectly, The Brood, Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Crash, and most frequently and obviously, Videodrome. Like his main character, Cronenberg has long been an “artist of the inner landscape.” And after several decades of excising that tendency from his work, Cronenberg has come full circle to accept what was inside him all along.