Why do we as humans like horror? There’s a rather simple draw to watching a scary movie, or something like taking a trip through a haunted house: the fear is all there is. There’s no directly present danger causing that visceral reaction in our bodies, aside from the simulated one in front of us. To many, like adrenaline junkies and horror fiends, it’s a craving that is constantly begging to be fed. We as humans have a morbid fascination with placing ourselves in situations no rational person would want to be in, yet always ensure ourselves there is some form of distance to keep us safe. In the world that David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future takes place in however, the Canadian auteur paints a vivid portrait where even that barrier is no longer enough. And while the lengths the film goes to when hammering its point home is still fictional, the ramifications of its society can be seen as a far stretch of the technology we have today. With Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg is doing all he can to satiate an ever-consuming audience that will always want more, no matter the cost.
With a deeply twisted sense of humor and a Cronenbergian solution to an absolutely critical dilemma, Crimes of the Future is rooted in the constantly shifting problem that is human existence. The film is vastly concerned with humanity and how it could possibly get through a future that is appearing to become more and more shrouded in doubt by the day. Wrapped up in a mystery of sorts, Crimes of the Future is both entertaining escapism and an ambiguous, existential warning. It’s a dread-inducing nightmare that will grab hold of you until the final haunting shot. Cronenberg, forever the provocateur, takes aim at high art, governmental control, and climate change all at once. The chic spaces one would expect performance art to take place in are replaced with drab warehouses one would think to see in the slums of a crumbling society. Government officials work in dilapidated apartment buildings rather than largescale offices. When we are treated to environments that are lush with regal décor, the people within are mesmerized by others inflicting barbaric acts upon themselves. And in true Cronenberg fashion, we of course see it all up close and personal. Yet as Kristen Stewart’s Timlin states early on in the film, “Surgery is the new sex”, and faces of wincing pain can easily be interpreted as unadulterated pleasure.
As a longtime collaborator and friend of Cronenberg, Viggo Mortensen as Saul Tenser understands this claim about what society is turning to for pleasure, and takes it to entirely new levels as a literal tortured artist. When he doesn’t appear to be hacking up a lung (or whatever neo-organ he has), Tenser is deeply aroused as his muse and performance partner Caprice cuts into him and treats him as a play toy or a ragdoll. Yet the excellent Léa Seydoux is able to take this fascinatingly unique concept and morph it into one of reverence, respect, and passion mixed with more than a dash of lust. Together, they lick lips, press their bodies against one another, and dive fully as one into the world Cronenberg has built: one where technology is an extension of the human body, and how the human body is an extension of the human condition. Specifically, it seems Cronenberg is interested in how change, in this case change through a twisted bodily lens, can lead to fear from the powers that be.
Characters in the film constantly hesitate to discuss change for what it truly us. A means of survival brought to humanity through evolution or human intervention is viewed as a concerning development among the government. In a weirdly steamy scene involving Stewart and Mortensen, we get to witness Stewart grapple with the very notion of professional wants versus bodily needs. There is an undertone of lust throughout nearly every scene of the film, and often times, these emotions are repressed in fear of what others may think. While Stewart and Seydoux’s characters lie on opposing ends of the spectrum in regards to what they want, Mortensen’s Tenser is shown to deeply grapple with the underworld he has found himself a shining star of. Yet he of course has no problem using the deeply suggestive looking tools at his disposal when the time comes for art. In Crimes of the Future, artists literally give their all to their art, in hopes of reclamation over their own bodies. As audiences begin desiring more and more, the art will become more extreme – but at what cost?
A character goes as far as to say that “if something is sexier, it means easier funding”. Cronenberg clearly has had no qualms over the course of his career using taboo topics and viscerally charged imagery to forward his themes. Yet the difference in his works is that moments of disgust are played to further the story, and secondly, audiences are always aware of that barrier between reality and fiction. Yet when this barrier becomes shattered and the public begins lining up to view autopsies and surgeries for the sheer sake of entertainment, what happens then? Are the crimes of the future this film is concerned with crimes against both human nature and the human body? As Tenser and Caprice’s first on-screen performance states, “Body is reality”. There is nothing more true than the physical manifestation of existence we have in front of us, yet with Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg attempts to see how far he can push that reality, before breaking it entirely.
Taking place in both an undetermined time and location in history allows Cronenberg to have free reign over the rules of society within this sci-fi enigma. Even though Cronenberg came up with this concept and script 20 years ago, he stated “Various elements have risen to the top of public consciousness around the world… That made me realize the film is more relevant than ever”. Time and time again, humanity has shown itself to be greedy and impossible to please. It's become too easy to take and take with little regard for those around us, and the deeper we become engrained within technological advancements, that gluttonous desire to consume will only grow. The predicament we as humans currently find ourselves in is a frightening one. Luckily, we have artists like Cronenberg making films to escape into, even if those films can lead us further into another anxiety-fueled dilemma. Fortunately, we still have that barrier between us and the film that keeps us safe… for now.
NEON will release CRIMES OF THE FUTURE in theaters on June 3rd, 2022.