Long known for his bizarre and surreal horror classics like The Fly (1986), Videodrome, and Scanners, as well as gritty and brutal crime thrillers like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg is a director that certainly needs no introduction. While he’s been busy with acting roles in series like Slasher: Flesh and Blood, he finally returns to the director’s chair for his first feature film in nearly a decade!
Starring the likes of Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, and Kristen Stewart, Crimes of the Future is every bit as uncomfortably compelling as you’d expect from the likes of Cronenberg. It blends captivating sci-fi aesthetics with thought-provoking dystopian themes. It’s without a doubt his most arthouse film to date (except maybe for Videodrome), and it will inevitably become a gateway for BDSM enthusiasts (more on that later)…
Evolution Gone Wrong?
Set in a futuristic world where human evolution has taken a left turn, we meet Caprice (Léa Seydoux) and her performing partner Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), as they run a performance art show in which Caprice surgically removes Tenser’s extra organs, all for a captivated audience. It seems that in this future, the vast majority of humans have evolved to no longer feel pain, and some (like Tenser) grow extra organs, with many speculating that he can even will them into existence.
This brave new world of artistic surgery and unregulated, unknown organs is something of a Pandora’s Box when it comes to legality. Laws and institutions struggle to keep up as nature and society advance (which is often the case). This leads them to crossing paths with Timlin (Kristen Stewart), a bureaucrat who seems infatuated with Tenser and his work.
While only in a supporting role, Kristen Stewart really shines as a character who’s conflicted in her own beliefs and desires. She seems almost perpetually aroused, equating this bizarre surgery to a form of sexual foreplay. The whole movie reinforces this idea, as most of the surgery scenes are done with a very sensual and almost erotic tone. All of this leading to a new potential sexual awakening for society.
The strangest thing about the film is that aspects of it don’t seem that far off reality. Cosmetic surgery is readily available (to those who can afford it) in our modern world, and not just to correct disabilities or deformities. Gifted plastic surgeons can increase/reduce breast size, alter facial features, and even use literal bacteria to prevent wrinkles from forming in the face.
This of course is just the tip of the iceberg when we delve into extreme body modification, with people drastically altering their appearance to look more like animals or other “unnatural” appearances. So with this kind of industry existing in today’s world, it’s easy to extrapolate that to the extremes that Crimes of the Future takes it to.
A common pitfall that science fiction often falls into is building a world that looks “shiny and new”, as if everything has a silver gloss and nothing ancient or archaic remains. While this is certainly an architectural aesthetic that exists, it’s rare to see sci-fi feature a world in which things look, for lack of a better term old. Much of the advanced technology in this film (including the surgery pod) doesn’t have the typical glossy, varnished appearance.
In fact, a lot of the tech has a very organic, almost fleshy appearance, which is quite fitting given Cronenberg’s proclivity for body horror. Tenser’s medical bed that administers medication almost looks like it becomes part of him, and the distinction between human and machine becomes blurred, again tying into the theme of body modification.
Natural vs. Unnatural
At its core, Crimes of the Future begs the question: “Is there a natural way to evolve?” Evolution usually takes millions upon millions of years. And while the narrative seems to speed up that process for the purpose of dramatic storytelling, it makes us ponder that very question. Tenser grows all these extra organs, and makes use of it via his and Caprice’s art show.
But even he becomes cautious when he sees a faction of individuals who are intentionally altering their evolution in order to digest synthetic plastics. Their justification is that given the overwhelming amount of plastic pollution, it’s only fitting that humans should evolve to consume it so that we adapt ourselves to fix a global environmental crisis. There’s a logic to it, but just because it’s “logical” does that make it natural? And if it’s “natural” does that make it right?
Crimes of the Future is certainly not for the faint of heart, or for those who are easily squeamish around medical gore. But it’s beautifully shot, features a compelling musical score, and enough science fiction/dystopian themes to make for a great debate in a medical ethics class one day!
What did you think of Crimes of the Future? What are your favorite David Cronenberg films? Let us know in the comments!