Crimes of the Future
Since seemingly forever, humanity has been obsessed with evolution. Science constantly needs to progress in order to make life bigger and better. This applies to our technology, as well as to ourselves. We use medications, surgeries, treatments, anything that could possibly improve our bodies. Our technologies have advanced to the point where some of this stuff can now be done for us and personal interaction is not as necessary. Maybe it is just a matter of time before the human body adapts to the changes we have put it through.
That is basically what Crimes of the Future (101 minutes, without the end credits), the latest descent into the extreme from writer/director David Cronenberg, wants to explore. Cronenberg has long been interested in the human body, trauma, sex, technology and the intersection between them. Here, he imagines a time where physical intimacy has lost its spark and physical pain has almost completely disappeared. Changing the human body has become a popular art, with people having themselves sliced open in front of captivated audiences. As one character says early on “Surgery is the new sex.”
While Crimes of the Future does revolve around concepts Cronenberg has looked at in the past, there are compelling ideas and striking (if disturbing) visuals on display. It is certainly intriguing as it goes on. There is so much strangeness that it may take until the movie is over to realize it doesn’t really connect its dots. It is more thought-provoking than good.
Saul Tenser is a performance artist. His body grows new organs and then people pay to watch Saul’s assistant cut them out of him. His celebrity in his field draws the attention of government bureaucrats, law enforcement and a grieving father. The story is development-heavy, but not plot-heavy. It mostly sets up its grotesque world, then watches Saul move around in it.
Cronenberg uses this world to ask questions about the human need to evolve. Several scenes show Saul sitting in a chair that helps him eat and digest his food. Technology has already changed the way we live from day-to-day; can it also help our bodies complete their normal functions? Would that be a good thing if it could? If we could permanently alter our bodies to eliminate pain, wouldn’t pleasure naturally go with it? Sex would be less interesting that way, which would explain how those feelings are transferred to the act of physical mutilation.
One of the more puzzling aspects of the movie is the bizarrely mannered performances he has gotten out of his cast. As Saul, Viggo Mortensen speaks every line as though he is in intense pain (granted, Saul likely is in discomfort the majority of the time). He is quiet, prideful and something of an enigma. Léa Seydoux plays his assistant, Caprice, whose main purpose is to always be there for Saul. Hers is probably the least distracting, thus the most effective, performance in the movie.
The most distracting comes from Kristen Stewart as Timlin, a bureaucrat with a fascination for what Saul does. Stewart is an excellent actor, yet either she or Cronenberg made the curious choice for her character to be very strange for no apparent reason. Her delivery is consistently stilted, like she is struggling to get words out, and she appears nearly petrified with nerves. Timlin, like everyone else in Crimes of the Future, is more important for what she is than who she is, so her quirks just come off as odd behavior for its own sake.
A lot has been said about what technological advances do to us mentally/emotionally; Cronenberg is focused on what it does to us physically. Crimes of the Future has its merits; it is creative visually and thematically. As always, Cronenberg is never afraid to go wherever his mind takes him. Unfortunately, this time, he doesn’t do enough once he gets there.
2¾ out of 5
Viggo Mortensen as Saul Tenser
Léa Seydoux as Caprice
Kristen Stewart as Timlin
Scott Speedman as Lang Daughtery
Don McKellar as Wippet
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg