David Cronenberg’s CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022) is top-notch sci-fi thick with his signature body horror and fetishization of the grotesque. Critics liked it but audiences apparently didn’t; the film bombed at the box office. Me, I absolutely loved it as something close to a work of genius.
It’s the future, the world is in decline, and humanity goes on evolving both naturally through strange mutations and artificially through strange advances in biotech. Humans don’t feel pain anymore, heal quickly, and don’t suffer infections. In this world, a performance artist couple, Saul Tensor (Viggo Mortensen in an example of perfect casting) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) performs live surgeries for adoring fans. Saul’s body, we’re told, continually produces mysterious new organs that must be removed, and Caprice removes them in art shows.
The couple form a collision point for two forces. On the one side, the government and its bureaucrats, special police, and assassins are okay with people modifying themselves as long as they register their aberrations and don’t pass them onto future generations in an effort to keep humanity, well, human. On the other side, a group of revolutionary mutants regard their new bodies as the future of the species. Saul’s mind is on one side, though his body may be on the other. In the end, we discover where his true allegiance lies.
This movies is just crazy. It has the same tickling weirdness of Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH while offering an alien future that feels utterly lived in. Terrific ideas are presented in a familiar way, such as mutation being a form of self expression that has meaning, surgery as performance art with the artist literally giving a part of himself to the audience, bodily mortification becoming a sexual experience in a species that doesn’t feel pain, and so on. Thematically, the idea of what makes someone human and across what line they become something else is intriguing and actually relevant, considering biotech may enable genetic modification in the future, resulting in biological haves with vital advantages and have-nots who can’t afford it or won’t do it. The special effects are squirm-inducing, the odd juxtaposition of grotesque and fetish jarring, the actors all perfectly inhabiting their roles.
On the downside, it’s not super coherent. The characters speak with a variety of accents, and Viggo Mortensen is always growling or rasping as he’s constantly sick, which made the dialogue a bit hard to follow at times. The overall narrative isn’t as coherent as I’d have liked, ending suddenly and leaving you to tie it all together in your head after it’s over. Overall, it didn’t feel quite complete. I would have loved to see this be a limited series rather than a movie. It would have been mind-blowing.
Anyway, despite these things, I totally loved it and hope Cronenberg isn’t done making movies like this. Highly recommended.