Movie Review – Crimes of the Future

Crimes of the Future (2022)
Written & Directed by David Cronenberg

The horrors that humanity is wreaking on the planet are being repaid on the species at a rapidly intense rate. Right now, back in the area where I used to live, they are experiencing a heat bubble bringing temperatures into the 100s-110s over the next week. Even here in the Netherlands, we saw a couple days’ bump of warmer temperatures than average temps for the time of the year. The ocean temperatures are rising as the byproducts of our mass production are pumped into the atmosphere, ice caps are melting, and with each passing day, microplastic or other toxins are discovered in overwhelming numbers in our bodies. Against such a bleak tableau, the future of humanity feels quite hopeless. There seem to be two paths: the entirety of the human race works to radically reduce the harm we have caused to lessen the collapse around us, or our bodies are forced to adapt to a polluted, poisoned world.

Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) has become a famous performance artist aided by his partner/surgeon Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Tenser has “accelerated evolution syndrome,” which manifests as his body growing vestigial organs. His performances involve Caprice removing them using an autopsy table device that has been modified. He can live without the organs, but they do have functions; when the film opens, he’s growing something that produces a new hormone. Tenser is not alone in this world, as the pain threshold for all humans has diminished as bodies adapt to pollution. As a result, there are no more diseases or infections, and surgery can be performed with the patient completely awake & aware. In addition, technology has become more organic in its design and augmented to directly interface with bodies. 

As with most Cronenberg films, the director presents many fascinating ideas surrounding human evolution. The line between this picture and the modern cultural fervor in the States over reproductive rights and gender identity is relatively straightforward. It would be uninteresting to make the film about that literally, and Cronenberg smartly uses his thoughts to explore how humans can endure in such brutal times, imagining in what ways authorities will attempt to restrict the ever-evolving human form. Early in the film, we are introduced to the newly formed National Organ Registry, where people with Tenser’s condition will be expected to come and register these new forms. The state has chosen to restrict natural human evolution, a feat that we should immediately read as satire. 

Cronenberg is also very concerned with intimacy in a space where evolution happens daily. In previous works like Videodrome and Crash, he’s said a lot. Here he can use advancements in digital & make-up effects to show some radical forms of sex. The sensations formerly associated with pain are now connected with pleasure as we watch a sex scene where a couple is sliced by the autopsy table. It’s not enough to kill them, but it will elicit squirms from most audiences. Tenser gets a body modification mid-way through the movie that allows Caprice to perform a type of oral sex that I don’t think you could predict was coming. 

The film’s opening is a crucial piece to the entire film’s theme. We see a child who represents a strange new path for human evolution, so extreme that one of his parents no longer views the child as a human. Instead, she refers to the boy as a “creature” or “thing.” Thankfully, the other parent, Lang (Scott Speedman), has a deep love for this child but not before the one lost in their prejudice does something horrific. It may seem like this is just a tiny episode forgotten about as Tenser’s story comes to dominate the narrative. Lang keeps popping up in the background, and details are shown that slowly reveal his agenda. Eventually, Lang will introduce himself to Tenser and work to convince the artist that his son’s body should become a part of the performance. The reasons behind this will draw a wide variety of emotions out of viewers. My personal read is a mix of bleak sadness and nobility in wanting a child’s death to not have happened in vain. 

For a while, it seemed that Cronenberg might have moved away from body horror and was interested primarily in more psychological stories. Since a History of Violence, that has been the focus of his work. In my opinion, his work through the 2000s and 2010s is often pretty good but not consistently successful. Part of understanding Cronenberg’s later works is that he is just not concerned with narrative momentum. His work is very similar to David Lynch’s in that they both become enamored with specific images or moods and use film to explore those things. If you are coming to this picture expecting a traditional science fiction story, then I will assume you’ve never seen a Cronenberg movie other than The Fly. It’s also not that provocative of a film; tranquil, contemplative, and full of people talking to each other more than any gruesome spectacle. Crimes of the Future feels more relevant than most films of our time, an authentic conversation about humanity’s desire to reign in our bodies as a continuation of our struggle to conquer the planet. At some point, society must realize it is not in control, that nature will always win out, and that learning how to live with these powerful forces will benefit us greatly.

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