Art is painful and unpredictable in Future Crimes, David Cronenberg’s latest film. As a work of art in itself, however, Future Crimes has a remarkable amount of polish. The film takes Cronenberg back to science fiction for the first time in two decades, and it fuses its squishy body horror with a lush retro-futuristic aesthetic and a murky but carefully plotted story about artists at the end of the world – or the birth of a new one. It’s a film whose slogan is “surgery is the new sex”, but the results are less shocking and more enjoyable than they appear.
Future Crimes is (presumably) set in the future, but there is little indication as to when or where. It’s set in a grimy metropolis where technology ranges from camcorders and CRTs to meaty jellyfish-like anesthesia beds. Rusting boats lie half-submerged on a beach on the outskirts of town, where rotting plastic pollutes the sand. Most of the population became hardened to pain and disease, and they began to grow mysterious new body parts. The only remaining art form in this future is extreme surgery, and its virtuoso performers are a duo named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux), who live in an abandoned industrial facility equipped to treat strange physical oddities. from Tenzer.
Tenser is revered among future bohemians for his unparalleled ability to grow new internal organs. Caprice extracts them in live performances with an eerie surgical machine made of bones, stroking a controller that looks like a Milton Bradley Simon the game was eaten by a deep-sea isopod. New Tenser pieces are then cataloged by a ramshackle organization called the National Organ Registry, which is run by the avuncular Wippet (Don McKellar) and the highly nervous Timlin (Kristen Stewart). The rare organ-art skeptic is Detective Cope (Welket Bungué), an agent of the New Vice Unit of Justice on the trail of an extremist group. (He admits the name of the office was chosen to sound cool.)
There’s a lot of classic Cronenberg visual language here, including the bed of jellyfish and an obsession with grotesque yet sultry disfigurement. Meanwhile, the dark settings and locationless glamor evoke the broader tradition of dark science fiction influenced by German Expressionism, in the vein of Brazil Where city of lost children. The film’s dialogue has a dryly comedic liveliness that feels like a twisted pastiche of a Humphrey Bogart screenplay from the 1940s.
Like many good film noir, everyone’s loyalties are tangled and sometimes inscrutable. Bureaucratic agencies seem to work against the grain with no real government to guide them. A powerful corporation prowls the ends of the earth, but its avatars are a pair of mechanics (Nadia Litz and Tanaya Beatty) who spontaneously undress in front of customers. The world-weary Tenser plays multiple sides of a brewing conflict and looks exhausted from the effort. While the film isn’t exactly slow-paced, the plot is twisty enough that it’s not always obvious where its long conversations and meditative surgical scenes go – but they’re driven by some surprisingly bizarre plot points. of future and absurd technology as an “Inner Beauty Contest.
Cronenberg predicted that Future Crimes would take viewers out of the screenings, and apparently some Cannes viewers did when it premiered. It has all the trappings of splatterpunk body horror: skeletal machines split skin like ripe fruit; facial features grow where they shouldn’t; and the characters are excited by bloody, yonic wounds.
But the film is so brilliant and stylized that it seems more outraged than it is. Unlike Cronenberg’s best-known films about violence as sex Accident and Videodrome, there’s no sense in having a disturbing new techno culture encroaching on our own world. Bodies are frequently mutilated but also chewable and invulnerable. The violence done to them rarely seems to stick. There’s little of the raw discomfort of a movie like Julia Ducournau’s really hard to watch Titanium, because the characters themselves seem so unfazed. Surgery may be the new sex, but in the chaste landscape of contemporary cinema, the results are less shocking than old sex would be.
Instead, the horror hits hardest in the parts that aren’t overtly bloody – including every time a character eats something, which ends up producing scenes that are far more quietly disturbing than the surgical feats of the film. Future Crimes The central mystery concerns the nature of the “accelerated evolution syndrome” that plagued people like Tenser. At first, it looks purely like the human body going haywire, and Tenser regards the changes as a curse; her art is an attempt to maintain control over her own flesh as she attempts to transform into something new. But for others, like the criminal group that New Vice pursues, it’s a necessary physiological adaptation to a lousy future.
As Tenser walks around town in a flowing black suit, the band’s groundbreaking movement attempts to nudge humanity into a form that can survive by literally consuming the plastic pollution it releases into the environment. His boss (Scott Speedman) wants Caprice to dissect his son, a performance he believes will reveal an enigmatic and important truth. Future Crimes the characters are caught between a decadent, decaying old world and a wretchedly efficient new one, and it’s unclear what even the most brilliant art can do to change that.
There is a compelling intersection between Future Crimes baroque metaphors on art and its extremely literal environmental themes. Tenser and Caprice are stuck in the sci-fi version of an eternal debate over aesthetics and meaning, ambivalent about fans loving their work for precisely the wrong reasons and participating in an aesthetically interesting project for a troubling political cause. The futuristic surgical art scene is a sympathetic caricature of its contemporary fine art counterpart, full of people who are undeniably pretentious but still capable of delivering entertaining speech or satisfying grotesque decor.
As fans of Tenser’s surgical art, it is easy to read the meaning in Crimes of the future. While the film was written around 1999, it taps into very contemporary concerns about climate change, pollution and intergenerational conflict. But it’s more satisfying to fall into a weird and beautiful exploration of a surreal subculture – just watch out for microplastics.
Future Crimes hits theaters on June 3.