June Butler puts Cronenberg’s latest under the knife.
Crimes of the Future is director David Cronenberg’s nod to a dystopian crisis of ownership. A grotesque palimpsest of possessiveness over humanity itself. Considering Cronenberg’s legacy in the genre, it can only be concluded that his latest offering has drawn on past successes whilst also being augmented to an acme of visceral and singular beauty. The entire film is imbued with barely concealed menace – almost like a dream that the watcher worries they will never wake up from. One where incising, cutting deeply, cauterising and mortifying the flesh appears to have replaced the mechanics of sex.
Set in the future with a science-fiction motif, Vigo Mortensen plays Saul Tenser, a unique yet deeply flawed example of humankind. His skill involves being able to generate new and hitherto unknown vestigial internal organs. Together with Caprice (Léa Seydoux), the duo performs artistically. Tenser becomes a donor. Caprice is the surgeon who removes the new organs. On some occasions, Caprice tattoos the internal growths before removing them. For Tenser, regenerating new organs drains him mentally and physically. He needs ever-increasing swathes of energy to rejuvenate and proceed on to the next artistic performance. There are religious undertones in addition to the rigors of fleshly pleasures – all the artistic shows take place on what appears to be a misshapen altar, alluding to the ritual of sacrifice.
As time continues, Tenser appears to reduce in physical presence. He becomes smaller, more wizened, weakened by the cuts inflicted on his body. What lies inside his body however, invigorates, spawns, and grows.
In this reimagined era, pain and human suffering have become obsolete. So too has infectious disease. Which in turn leads to questions about whether crimes have been committed – what is the act of murder without extreme associated pain? In one scene, Caprice is mutilated by a disembodied surgical scalpel operated by Tenser. A feat that Caprice imbues with sensual pleasure. Caprice and Tenser pay a visit to the National Organ Registry, a dusty, out-of-the-way office peopled by an odd couple; Timlin (played with brittle perfection by Kristen Stewart), and Wippet (Don McKellar). Wippet resonates as an oily, avuncular individual, anxious to please but with an unknown underlying edge. Timlin is nervous and excitable – almost kinetically charged when she tries to capture the attention of the utterly disinterested Tenser. Caprice behaves as the creator of subdued desire, but it is Timlin who is the architect of tremorous erotica.
There are overtones of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film Twelve Monkeys and Chris Marker’s La Jetée contained in the film. Some parallels can also be drawn with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover (Greenaway, 1989) for its raw, almost cannibalistic imagery and the way in which the feeling of love is replaced with brutal proprietorship. While Cronenberg does not raise the spectre of cannibalism in Crimes of the Future, there is nonetheless a sense of overarching, annihilating, all-consuming subsummation. A perception of being devoured and eaten alive.
Welket Bungué plays Detective Cope, the narrative link between seemingly inconsequential snippets of the story. He crops up along the way in various guises – part investigator in determining what, if any crime has been committed, conjoined with an innate curiosity in seeking resolution to unanswered questions. Cope provides an essential conduit that propels the story forward. Scott Speedman as Lang Dotrice is a grief-stricken father trying to come to terms with the death of his son. He insists on a public autopsy but is aghast at what he uncovers in the process. Berst (Tanaya Beatty) and Router (Nadia Litz) are like two naughty sprites. Continually up to no good but deadly killing machines nonetheless. Their gleeful antics bely far more sinister plans of action.
Coarse and guttural, Crimes of the Future feels like its human core has been pared back to a basic commodity – literally. People are reduced to meat and bones. Suggestive, at times riddled with fetishistic nuances, and peppered with more MacGuffins than you could shake a stick at, along with overtones of sado-masochism, Crimes of the Future simply hones David Cronenberg’s astonishing directorial skills to those of a master in the genre. It is entirely fitting that the film has been awarded so many accolades.
Crimes of the Future is in cinemas from 9th September 2022.