Back in 1970, Crimes of the Future was in fact David Cronenberg’s second feature – but since then both he and the future have changed considerably, and accordingly his latest feature of the same title is in fact an entirely different film, even if it looks back to motifs from his earlier films, especially Rabid (1977), Dead Ringers (1988), Crash (1996) and eXistenZ (1999).
In a non-specifically dated, rather shabby-looking future Greece (aptly the birthplace of comedy and tragedy), technology comes with an organic look, pain and infection have been largely eradicated from the population, while ‘neo-organs’ are beginning to emerge. Most keep these tumours quiet amid a police crackdown on deviations from humanity, but performance artist Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) uses his accumulating internal mutations for his art, staging their endoscopic tattooing and live surgical removal with his performance partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux).
Yet even as this duo explore their inner world and mix with other celebrity artists and imitators in their orbit, it seems that everyone wants a piece of them. The fanatical archivist Wippet (Don McKellar) barely conceals his illicit obsessions beneath dry bureaucratic analysis, while his colleague the repressed Timlin (a brilliantly mannered Kristen Stewart) declares surgery “the new sex” and longs to make her own mark in one of Saul’s shows. Lang Doltrice (Scott Speedman) hopes to use Saul’s public platform to launch an evolutionary revolution via the cadaver of his mutant son Brecken (Sozos Sotiris). And Detective Cope (Welket Bungué) recruits the conflicted, double-dealing Saul to help bring down Lang’s gang of surgically altered cutters and cultists.
Its title may be forward-looking, but Crimes of the Future is a film of both retrospection, and literal introspection. For Saul – who truly suffers for his art – is clearly a cypher for Cronenberg himself, here inspecting the entrails of his own cinematic past as ‘depraved’ maestro of cerebral ‘body horror’, in order to find – or even to impose – meaning in all the icky, messily visceral chaos. As Saul sees that his artistic expression transgresses shifting borderlines between the political and the personal, the appropriative, the exploitative and the exhibitionist, Cronenberg’s portrait of an artist as an old man exposes for our collective scrutiny the parts within that are radical, dangerous and freaky-deakily unsettling. Like Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet (2022), this dissects creative process and performance from the inside out, as a confrontingly perverse passion play, and an altered autopsy of the human condition.
strap: David Cronenberg’s inventive, ideas-driven sci-fi stages an artist’s inner conflicts and their unruly surgical expression
© Anton Bitel