A little boy sits against the wall of a grubby bathroom and eats with small bites from a plastic trash can. An undefined slimy substance drips from his mouth. That night, his deeply troubled mother suffocates the mutant child with a pillow.
In the further course of Crimes of the Futurethe new film from the Canadian body horrorspecialist David Cronenberg, we follow Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artist dressed in a superhero-like cloak. With the help of surgeon Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul gives performances in which he has organs that grow like tumors in his body (‘neo-organs’, in Cronenberg jargon) publicly removed. Sounds spectacularly distasteful, but within the reality of the film, it soon looks quite mundane. More of a cabinet of curiosities than abhorrent horror.
In this dystopian future, ‘Accelerated Evolution Syndrome’ is called the condition that leads to people growing new organs, or being able to eat plastic. In this universe, survival on a poisoned, post-industrial planet is the obvious evolutionary step. Pain has almost been eliminated, at night people stand lustfully in dark alleys, cutting into each other. ‘Surgery is the new sex’, according to the Kristen Stewart-played employee of the National Organ Registry, not the only obscure organization in this film.
Cronenberg returns from the first minutes of Crimes of the Future back to the cult genre to which his name has been inextricably linked since the 1980s, and of which he has made elaborate crime films (A History of Violence) and existential character studies (Cosmopolis) had just retired in recent years. Finally body horror again, in this spiritual successor to films like videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), in which grotesque physical mutations function as a metaphor for social and societal developments. Of videodrome For example, he foresaw how the seductive power of screens would change our perception of reality forever. In Cronenberg’s universe, this results in a scene in which a man transforms into a video recorder through a vagina-like opening in his abdomen.
Of Crimes of the Future – also a kind of elaborate reinterpretation of his 1970 avant-garde no-budget film of the same name – Cronenberg refers so emphatically to his own oeuvre that he almost greatest hitsland lands. In terms of unadorned camerawork and clinical, distanced acting, the film sometimes even looks downright outdated. The feeling that forty years ago the filmmaker did just that little bit more disturbing work, with a sharper foresight, cannot be completely suppressed.
Yet Cronenberg does not limit himself to ruminating. He has plenty to say about today’s world—possibly more as an eccentric satirist than a visionary horror filmmaker, but that doesn’t make his new work any less valuable. Among other things, the film ties in with the idea that everyone can be their own performer these days and shows how this can encourage an advanced exhibitionism. How widespread acceptance of plastic surgery is leading to new beauty ideals? Crimes of the Future delivers the craziest answers.
Crimes of the Future
Directed by David Cronenberg
With Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Tanaya Beatty, Scott Speedman
108 min., in 39 rooms