January 27, 2023

Film review: ‘Crimes of the Future’ is a body horror classic from Cronenberg

Somehow, the slicing open of someone’s stomach becomes sexy


For those moviegoers looking for something completely different and bizarre, look no further than David Cronenberg’s latest, “Crimes of the Future.”

It recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where there were a few dramatic walkouts, and it went home without a prize from the jury. When you see the movie, you might understand why.

The film doesn’t really have a narrative thrust based on plotting. It’s a collection of bizarre images about a man who has started growing extra organs in his body, and about that man’s creative partner, who likes to slice open his abdomen during a live broadcast and pull out the new organs and give them a tattoo. This is what passes for performance art in the unspecified future, and this is the essence of “Crimes of the Future.”

Apparently, technology and climate change have wreaked havoc on the future, and the human body is trying to evolve to survive. Saul Tensler (Viggo Mortensen) is at the forefront of this evolution, and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) is more than willing to probe his insides.

Tensler spends his evenings in the OrchidBed, which is sort of like a strange pod that anticipates his every need. In the daytime, he sits in a skeleton-like chair in order to eat, with the skeleton moving his arm to his mouth, somewhat awkwardly.

Oddly enough, this is considered to be sexy. That’s especially true for Caprice, but also for Timlin (Kristen Stewart), who works as a timid but sexually aroused bureaucrat at the National Organ Registry. When watching the surgery performed on Tensler, she exudes, “Surgery is the new sex!”

This theme continues throughout the movie, including scenes where beautiful models have their faces carved up into grotesqueries and various people ooh and ahh.

It’s hard not to the think of “Young Frankenstein” when watching this movie, especially the scene where Madeleine Kahn expresses desire for her zipper-neck lover, aka the Monster.

After Tensler returns home from a rather extreme surgery that left him with a zipper stomach, Caprice unzips that baby and does something rather startling. And yes, that’s something of a spoiler. Sorry.

But it’s important to let you know what you’re getting into if you go to see “Crimes of the Future.”

One of the most interesting conceits is that some humans are evolving with the ability to eat and digest plastics.

Cronenberg says that he wonders whether the human body can evolve to solve problems we have created, like being able to digest plastics as part of a solution to the climate crisis.

If you find this odd, then you have not been paying attention to the long history of Cronenberg’s so-called body horror movies.

Cronenberg, of course, can be quite funny, especially when a body organ enthusiast approaches Tensler and wonders whether he would be willing to enter an “inner beauty” pageant. It’s best to leave that pageant to your imagination.

Some things cannot be explained or critiqued when it comes to Cronenberg. So it’s best to let him answer this question in the press notes, with a bit of paraphrasing of the question. “Do you think our bodies are adapting and evolving to our changing environment?”

Here’s Cronenberg’s answer:

“Oh I think we’re doing it, I think we’re definitely changing. … A famous Nobel Prize winner, Gerald Edelman, said that the human brain is not at all like a computer. It is much more like a rainforest where there’s a constant striving for dominance amongst the neurons and the different elements in the brain and they’re constantly responding to the environment, that is to say the intake from your eyes, from your nose, from … the senses. … So even just talking about the brain as the super organ of human existence, it is constantly changing and mutating and so it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine that for other parts of the body. The digestive system responds, we now understand the microbiome in the human gut and the intestines, that it’s actually a lot of living organisms there that communicate with the human brain.”

For fans of Cronenberg, these ideas will not be unfamiliar. And if you like the long and distinguished body of Cronenberg’s work, then this movie is for you. It opens June 3 at the Violet Crown and various Alamo Drafthouse theaters.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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