Body horror is back, baby. With his new film, director David Cronenberg has returned to the type of metaphysical disfigurement that the Daily Mail wanted to ban when he made his 1996 cult classic Crash. While there are no sexual fetishists finding the erotic in car crashes here, Crimes of the Future does explore the extremes of the human anatomy, something Cronenberg’s entire body of work has been preoccupied with.
It’s set in a near future where bodies have changed beyond recognition, and a combination of technological advancement and evolution has eradicated pain but also begun to diminish pleasure. Some humans have also gained the ability to grow their own organs in scenes that are immediately reminiscent of Cronenberg’s freaky ’80s masterpiece The Fly.
Crimes of the Future is centered on Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). Saul has a particular capacity for producing new organs, something he commercialises in a series of live shows where Caprice performs live surgery, removing the body parts and then tattooing them because in the end days of capitalism, even your heart is for sale. Perhaps the least realistic element of the plot is that a government department exists to regulate evolution and these fermenting organs.
One such regulator is Kristen Stewart’s Timlin, who at one point says “surgery is the new sex” because sex isn’t sex anymore. In a blatant nod to Crash, Timlin is turned on by Saul’s evolution and the fact he exists at the intersection of being a natural organism and artificial creation. These are themes that have defined Cronenberg’s work as he’s pivoted between Hollywood satire (Maps to the Stars), neo-noir (A History of Violence) and a story of sexual repression (A Dangerous Method), which means Crimes of the Future serves as a “greatest hits” of sorts.
While there’s a seedy digital quality to the visuals that’s unusual for Cronenberg, much of Crimes of the Future feels sliced and diced from his earlier, better films. The pornographic perversion of Crash is hornier, more subversive and ultimately a more effective encapsulation of the central idea presented in Crimes of the Future – namely, that everything can be fetishised and commercialised, and that the body is just one big blob to be toyed with. Even the gnarly images of Saul’s body, complete with zips, growths and ears where they shouldn’t be, are less upsetting than what Cronenberg presented in 1983’s Videodrome. That said, when the film does decide to get its freak on with a display of oral sex unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, Crimes of the Future is delightfully provocative.
But still, Cronenberg playing through the hits is better than most directors’ best work. He’s a filmmaker who has always had apocalyptic visions of humanity: they’re all here and they do hit in a sharp way. We live in a world of geological implosion and mutating unkillable diseases so the Earth of Crimes of the Future, which exists under a fugue of mankind-inflicted tragedy, seems all too appropriate. Long live the new sex.
- Directors: David Cronenberg
- Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart
- Release date: September 9