Throughout his long career, writer/director David Cronenberg has developed a reputation as someone who’s unafraid to depict all sorts of horror on human bodies. From Shivers to Scanners to The Fly, audiences willing to go along for the ride have been subject to some very disturbing visuals from the filmmaker.
His latest, Crimes of the Future, is actually a remake/reimagining of a film of the same name he made in 1970. Set in an indeterminate future, it centers on Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artist living in a world where humans no longer feel pain or get infections. He is one of a special subset of people who have developed the ability to grow new organs, ones that may or may not have any usefulness to the body.
With the help of his doctor/partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul puts on shows in which these new organs are removed and put on display. Among those very interested in what comes out are Timlin (Kristen Stewart) and Wippet (Don McKellar), who work in the new Organ Registry Office, as well as Lang Daugherty (Scott Speedman), whose son has recently died in an awful way.
As laid out by Cronenberg, the story of the film is hit-and-miss. There are times when it feels like a “normal” movie, with scenes featuring jealousy, betrayal, lust, and other easily identifiable emotions. But most of the time, Cronenberg indulges in his most outlandish impulses, showcasing moments that either come out of nowhere or are just plain incomprehensible.
The biggest element for which audiences have to steel themselves is the barrage of violent scenes Cronenberg includes in the film. Since people can no longer feel pain, many of them engage in cutting or body enhancements in search of pleasure. The casual bloodletting is even referred to as “the new sex,” and one scene between Saul and Caprice drives this point home in a graphic way.
However, you have to search hard to find the ultimate meaning of the film. Cronenberg has some very specific ideas, both visual and metaphorical, and it’s likely only he can truly explain why they’re in the movie. Many of them, like a bizarre, moving chair that Saul sits in while trying to eat a mystery food, seem to be there solely for the shock value.
What keeps the movie somewhat watchable, aside from seeing what weird thing happens next, is the commitment of the actors. Mortensen, who has now starred in four Cronenberg films, goes all-in with his performance, engaging in all manner of quirks. In fact, several of the main actors, including Mortensen, Seydoux, and Stewart, speak in a kind of stage whisper, a choice that was likely another one of Cronenberg’s oddball notions.
The beauty of Crimes of the Future, like the new organs or body modifications in the film, will be in the eyes of the beholder. The films of Cronenberg are the ultimate acquired taste, and I’d wager that most of the people who choose to watch will be left feeling sour.
Crimes of the Future is now playing in select theaters.