In Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg takes the relationship between art and human bodies more literally than he ever has before. The film is a fever dream of pain meeting pleasure in the form of art.
David Cronenberg is no stranger to self-reflecting horror themes, but in Crimes of the Future he returns to combining eroticism and body horror in a familiar, yet fresh way. Set in a dystopian future, there is not a ton of background on how the world becomes the new frantic place it is, but it isn’t truly needed. The story flows naturally while still providing the rules of the social order as the plot unfolds for this new world without pain.
Viggo Mortensen plays Saul, a famous avant-garde artist who is able to grow new organs and collaborates with Caprice (Léa Seydoux) who performs explicit public surgery on his body. A brutal crime opens the film in which Saul gets mixed up through a cryptic detective played by Welket Bungué. Their secret meetings take place by the ocean where a ship sits on the shore. Saul is requested to study Scott Speedman’s cult-like leader while also being investigated himself by the “National Organ Registry.” The National Organ Registry is run by a pair of investigators, Wippet (Don McKellar) and his younger associate, Timlin (Kristen Stewart), who enforce the government’s control on public surgery yet secretly admire the work they are doing.
The film is rather tame for Cronenberg and his signature body horror. In a world without pain, you would assume Cronenberg would unleash the most visceral body horror, but what we see is much less than you’d be used to in his films. The body horror elements feel more part of the elegant process of Caprice and Saul’s art. In Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg takes the idea of creative work and human life evolving together as a literal idea with Saul’s body growing new organs as part of an art show. How Saul is able to grow these new organs is never made clear, but this is not part of the plot; what he does with his freshly grown organs is what we’re here for.
The relationship between Caprice and Saul is very much a stand in for director and actress. His work is internal, and while he sets the stage for their surgeries, he needs the public, theatrical work of a performer to bring an audience to his art. While the film has many allegories and themes it’s working with, the overall theme of how one consumes art is perhaps the most poignant.
While most of the film is spent with Mortensen and Seydoux, who both give great performances, the best performance in the film belongs to Stewart. She plays Timlin with such kinetic energy that is disturbing and unsettling. Stewart is comedic at times, while desperately horny at other times. She is a perfect actor for Cronenberg’s dialogue. The performances are complimented by a beautiful, throbbing score by Howard Shore, sharp editing by Christopher Donaldson and stunning make-up work by a team led by Alexandra Anger. The prosthetics work in Crimes of the Future is so realistic and dreamlike at the same time it keeps you fully in the world developed on screen.
Crimes of the Future may cover familiar territory for both Cronenberg and its themes, but the film has something fascinating to say on the current state of filmmaking and how we consume art in the digital age.
Likely: Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Should be Considered: Best Sound, Best Original Score, Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)
Where to Watch: Hulu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
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