Crimes of the Future

In the not too distant future, a mother, Djuna (Lihi Kornowski), smothers her 8 year-old child, Brecken (Sozos Sotiris), after watching him eat a plastic wastebasket.  She then makes a phone call, instructing someone to tell her ex-husband to ‘pick up the corpse of that thing he calls his son.’  That man, Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), is the leader of an underground survivalist cult being hunted by Detective Cope (Welket Bungué) who will connect him to performance artist Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen).  Tenser’s lover Caprice (Léa Seydoux) first tattoos then removes the strange organs he grows as a victim of Accelerated Evolution Syndrome in front of live audiences and Dotrice will contact Tenser directly to propose macabre “Crimes of the Future.”

Laura's Review: B

Writer/director David Cronenberg turned to a script he wrote twenty years ago for his latest and fans of his work will see ideas repurposed from "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers" as well as inspirations for "Crash."  “Crimes of the Future” is stuffed with so many ideas it is one of the auteur’s most plot heavy movies, some strands introduced to be left hanging.  It will be open to various interpretations, like whether the film is hopeful about humankind’s ability to adapt or, as was my reading, that we are engineering ourselves out of existence.  (I’m sure some may even interpret the film as transphobic.)

People like Tenser, who looks like a diseased monk, his body, and sometimes face, covered by a long, hooded, black cloak, rely on machines (production designer Carol Spier’s work is immediately recognizable) for such normal activities as eating and sleeping, Lifeform Ware products such as the skeletal-looking Breakfaster chair manipulating his body into contortions to process food and a suspended OrchidBed biologically attaching itself to ease the pain of evolution.

In addition to the skeptical Cope (‘I have a lump on my abdomen – is it art?  Francis Bacon perhaps?’), Saul and Caprice have drawn the attention of National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), both intent on recording new human organs.  They also both have enough of an unsavory personal interest in Sensor to cross ethical lines and show up at one of his performances, Timlin so turned on she whispers in Saul’s ear her theory that ‘surgery is the new sex’ (a concept at odds, it should be noted, with Brecken’s ‘first born’ status, his son’s inherited ability to survive on toxins behind Dotrice’s proposal that his son’s body be used in Caprice and Saul’s next performance).

It is undeniable that Cronenberg’s penetrative body horror is purposefully erotic, Saul projecting ecstasy as Caprice manipulates surgical knives with an abdominal control panel and couples in dark alleys engaged in methodical blade thrusting.  Lifeform Ware technicians Router and Berst (Nadia Litz and Tanaya Beatty) are so excited at the sight of the performance artists’ vintage Sark machine, formerly used for autopsies, they disrobe and climb right into it.  There is also sly black humor at play, Caprice suggesting she tattoo ‘Mother’ on Saul’s latest internal growth, a joke which comes into sick play when it is revealed Timlin has gotten to Brecken before Caprice does.

Mortensen and Seydoux are delightfully connected as Cronenberg’s ambiguously amorous couple, he projecting something approaching sanity in a world of madness, she warmth amidst its cold, but it is Stewart who delivers the film’s slyest performance, her halting speech and tics suggesting a bureaucratic nerd, her elevated breathing rate around Mortensen an obsessed groupie.  But other characters, like Yorgos Pirpassopoulos’ Doctor Nasatir, arrive and depart so quickly, we barely have time to understand their place in the scheme of things.  And it is the latter issue which nags at us throughout “Crimes of the Future,” at once a welcome return to Cronenberg’s roots but one whose overflow of ideas fails to fully come into focus.

Neon opens "Crimes of the Future" in theaters on 6/3/22.