Crimes of the Future (2022)
Due to environmental factors, in an unspecified future, humans as a species are beginning to take the next steps in evolution. The most noticeable change to the body is that humans seemingly no longer feel physical pain. With the removal of pain, acts of violence begin to take on a new meaning within society. Instead of being one of injury, it becomes one of intimacy and sexuality. Enter Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a performance art duo with an act revolving around this, with an added caveat: Saul is slightly ahead of everyone else in the evolutionary line…
He’s been growing additional organs for a yet unknown purpose, and he’s not the only one. Little is known about this new condition, and the government bureaus are not far behind in documenting/legislating the effects and the meaning behind the developments. The couple skirt around the trouble entailed by performing shows centered around an erotic and high-tech surgical removal of Saul’s new parts.
Cronenberg manages to execute this with precision, and these surgery scenes (so charged they’re basically filmed as if they were sex scenes) are the clear highlight for me. It encompasses and condenses the best parts of the whole film into these concise and stylish moments. To elaborate, the whole film has a very strong Cronenbergian stylised flair. He delivers on the goods that audiences are going to be waiting for when going to see a film with his name on it. Here you’ve got a film where the central plot point is about two characters portraying surgery and a controlled violence as art. It’s got body horror all over it – and our director knows it. It doesn’t take much thought to see the parallels with this and the man’s own career; it is a cheeky nod and a wink to the audience which luckily doesn’t become too over-stated.
It’s beautifully designed – you’ve got this amazingly well put together original sci-fi world. In part, built up through the technology, these twisted pieces of machinery which act as interface between software and human bodies: remote control operated surgical coffins, full body chairs designed to help people digest food, beds connected into you which monitor the user, moving the user around to ensure maximum comfort. The mixing of the technological and organic is obviously not new ground for this filmmaker. What we see here is clearly reminiscent of films like Naked Lunch, Existenz, and Videodrome, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Combining all this with a backing of a subtle ambient, industrial soundtrack manages to elevate the whole thing. All in, it creates such a strong atmosphere and sense of mood for the entirety of the runtime.
A horrific treat for the senses no doubt. But quickly, the plot becomes quite unwieldy, and the film as a whole, a little messy. After the movie’s initial setup, we’re soon introduced to a host of secondary characters and their own plotlines which follow. Some of these are better than others, and have varying degrees of importance. Some are less critical but have a main purpose of world building, which is fine, and gives the audience a lot of sci-fi concepts to ponder. It is usually an approach I’m fairly positive on, but when many of the concepts and ideas are of such little consequence it leaves far less of an impact. With a mass of subplots, many of little relevance, I felt as though the crucial moments don’t get the screen time they deserve. At 1h 47mins, it’s a fairly quick run, with a lot crammed in. At points can feel scattered and unfocused. It left me thinking this maybe would have benefited by being tv show length, but instead has been crushed down to meet a cinematic runtime.
While this may be Cronenberg’s big return to sci-fi and horror, don’t forget, he’s been making artsy dramas for the better part of 10 years, and it shows. One of the other issues I had with Crimes of the Future was the overall coldness of the characters. Sometimes bordering on wooden performances, I really struggled with it. However, in part, I want to believe some of it is intentional, I’m just not sure to what end. Most obviously this due to the caliber of actors involved, but also due to the surprising amount of deadpan comedy that runs through it, so dry it might go missed by some of the audience. Also considering the emphasis on world building, with widespread sadomasochistic tendencies becoming commonplace, it’s easy to accept that this might change a population’s personality. But this isn’t something obviously conveyed.
For me, this feels like Old Cronenberg filtered through the New Cronenberg. For better or for worse, he’s learned something from his artsy phase, but still treading on some familiar ground. While a little bloated, and slightly confusing at times it’s still overall a decent enough watch, which may even benefit from a second viewing. From analysis I’ve read since writing this review, I’m already seeing some parts of the film in a new light, so there might still be more to discover yet. The trademark Cronenberg touch stones present manage to elevate the material, and create a sometimes overwhelming spectacle that maybe just aims a little too high.