David Cronenberg’s CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a work of such exquisite horror and refined subtlety that it is pure sex. Of course, it is subtle right up until the moment when it decides not to be. It is funny, trenchant, and so far ahead of most directors with its musing on the nexus of art, pain, sexuality, and politics. I will tell you, run, do not walk to the nearest theatre where CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is playing. Let no one stand in your way.
I would have stayed in my seat and watched it again a second time right after it ended. One of the best things about CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is that Cronenberg is still evolving as an artist and director. He’s let more of his comedic side escape with this film and it makes it all the more enjoyable.
While I have seen some sad examples of former masters of the horror film not continuing to evolve as artists as time goes on, Cronenberg has gotten even more willing to step outside of what defines his work as an artist while still exploring the themes that continue to interest him.
It’s a comedy in some ways. In particular, Kristen Stewart’s character Timlin was kind of like a character out of the screwball comedy aesthetic. It was refreshing and quite a departure because her work is usually very reserved and seemingly perfect for a Cronenberg film. However, Cronenberg made her character the exact opposite. Timlin is nervy and filled with tension and desire and completely unaware of how visible that desire really is to everyone else.
Such eroticism, sensuality, and sadness. The film continues with the themes of human evolution and mutation but goes in a slightly different direction. The opening scene and the ending scene are all-timers though, particularly the ending. I was awestruck by that ending.
For all of the cruelty of the subject matter, CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is possibly one of the most emotional of Cronenberg’s films. While some consider his work “cold”, I have never made that mistake. His work is that of a highly intelligent and intellectual man that has a clinical focus on human behavior. His cinematic viewpoint has very little pity for most of humanity, except for those who are genuinely vulnerable, like Kiki in Naked Lunch. That doesn’t mean that those characters are safe, however. CRIMES OF THE FUTURE has characters in it that have a much more anarchic bent than the characters in his films have been in a while especially Tanaya Beatty as Berst and Lihi Kornowski as Djuna. These characters are gleeful in their willful and murderous lusts. Their characters make the point that lust is not limited to sexuality.
To me, the central premise of the film seems to be how bad things can become when human beings are disassociated from their emotions. In the alternate reality of CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, pain has disappeared. There is a debate on whether or not pain is actually an emotion but it is certainly a feeling that people like to avoid. CRIMES posits a world where we no longer have to worry about pain, but the warning signs that pain gives us are also gone too.
People recklessly and openly have sex with each other with knives, scalpels, and whatever instruments that can be used to penetrate flesh can be found. The characters slice each other’s flesh with lasers and thrust endoscopic cameras inside torsos in a way that can only be viewed as highly sexual.
There is so much penetration.
But at the same time, this penetration is sometimes very sensual and sometimes workmanlike, much like the sexual act can vary depending on the participants. The film seems to whisper in your ear that sex, of any type, and pleasure are tied directly to how much the individuals are invested in it emotionally.
This leads me to the nexus. As I said earlier, the film exists at a nexus of art, pain, sexuality, and politics. None of these things can exist without the other. Politics exist for the body politic but also among individual human beings. In the macrocosm and the microcosm. For many, there is a mistaken belief that great art can only be created out of great emotional pain. This is horseshit and I believe that CRIMES OF THE FUTURE might agree with me. The film and its creators make that pain as a creative force in art a literal thing. Instead of someone feeling depressed and writing a great song, the artist Caprice (Lea Seydoux) uses the lasers in an automated autopsy machine to remove her partner Saul Tenser’s (Viggo Mortenson) rogue organs from his body as performance art. Saul is the canvas that Caprice performs on, but one aspect does not exist without the other as she creates. The individual building blocks of the art are part of the art as much as the creator’s talent is. When someone mocks Saul’s part in the performance, the point is made that his body creates the organs to be removed. Lea Seydoux is a sensual force of nature. You see Caprice fingering the buttons of the organic controller and you see sex. Viggo Mortenson is a much more submissive character in regards to the art performances, but you can feel the twinkle of his sardonic wit when he apologizes and see his warm and ethical heart when he negotiates with an authority figure.
One cannot exist without the other.
The art comes out of the very real and disturbing actions of Saul’s body. The point seems to me to be that the art that you create comes from what is inside you. It’s not the depression or the anger, but what you are as a human being and how you seek to communicate with the outside world. All of our bodies create our own rogue organs that we have to rid ourselves of in some way. We are all essentially alone in our meat sack prisons, but things like art, sex, politics, and pain can connect us in very real and important ways. They are ways to communicate with each other as sentient beings and join for a time to assuage our essential solitude and loneliness. There’s a reason why sex frequently involves penetration of the body. There’s a reason why art engages our emotions. There’s a reason why politics stir our passions. There’s a reason why we are able to feel empathy for others’ pain.
Emotions and the vulnerable sharing of the self are the only way to exorcise those painful things inside of us. CRIMES OF THE FUTURE grabs me by the neck from behind and whispers gently in my ear, “You are the art.” CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a work of art that makes itself so personal to the viewer. It represents a leap forward in Cronenberg’s work. It’s talking directly to you rather than holding you at a distance.
I mention it every time I get a chance, but David Cronenberg’s son Brandon Cronenberg told me that he [Brandon] views his work as communication with the audience, a conversation or dialogue that he wants to have with the people who watch his films. He doesn’t want to direct that dialogue. He wants to hear what others think about it. What a film means can shift from person to person and from time to time. Largely, what one gets from a film is what you bring to it. David Cronenberg is no exception.
There’s also the possibility that perhaps the pain that Saul is experiencing and the new organs are an evolution of the species. As they say, growth is painful. Is Saul, who is an extremely passive character among a number of much more aggressive female characters, denying what is growing within him? Cronenberg’s work has always been about the rogue elements within the human body and psyche all the way back to Shivers. The crux, for me, is the elemental fight within the human self between pure passionate desire and violence and the intellectual, rational, and ethical mind. The fight for control between the limbic brain and the prefrontal cortex.
One cannot exist without the other.
One of the most wonderful things about David Cronenberg’s work is that there are so many levels and so many possibilities. I wouldn’t be able to say more without watching the film a few more times and you had best believe I will be doing that at the soonest opportunity. The dance of the Earman is beautiful to behold. I have to say that one of the most striking scenes is two women having sex in a roomful of people. One uses a scalpel to saw repeatedly on the bone of the other woman’s foot. I’ve almost never seen such an erotic image that would have probably passed any censorship board with no problem. But, dear reader, I cannot tell a lie. It really turned me on.
The score by Howard Shore is amazing. It has instantly risen to become one of my favorite scores within the Shore/Cronenberg creative canon. The swell of the woodwind in the central theme expands outward in an almost mystical way. It seems to send you hurtling through space with sound. Gorgeous.
The set design, costume design, the cinematography, are gauged to the film’s heart of darkness, even the hair and make-up are perfectly calibrated for maximum effect. Everything is in its place and is of superior craftsmanship. Cronenberg, because of his magnificent judgment and intelligence never misses, but CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is a masterwork of a genius filmmaker in full control of his talent that sits in a realm of self-created chaos and terror with a gentle smile on his face. He puts his hands up to show he means no harm, but in that slightly mocking smile, one of the most dangerous minds in cinema pulses with feral energy that he cannot show anywhere else.
One of the most informative statements about the trip you are about to go on is made is the announcement that you hear in the trailer:
It is time to stop seeing
It is time to stop speaking
It is time to listen.
I can’t think of a better place to end this than with that.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE will be released in theaters tomorrow, June 3, 2022.
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