Review: Crimes of the Future
by David Katz
- CANNES 2022: David Cronenberg’s return to cinema is a haunting look at a future where humans have reached a new evolutionary stage
When you don’t see smartphones, or computers of any kind, you know something is up. And then there’s the cast, all speaking English but never with the same accent. And what about the gothic-Mediterranean aura of pearlescent waves, lapping in front of the off-yellow architecture? Weirdness or uncanniness in cinema is never solely about plot or concept – it can be an atmospheric feature, blowing a breeze that should make you feel a bit ill.
Canadian master David Cronenberg’s new Cannes competition film Crimes of the Future [+see also:
film profile] – his first feature in eight years – is laden with this stuff, all in perfect harmony with its ideas. The subject matter is evolution and futurity, but perhaps his greatest achievement in this work is avoiding the contemporary sense of this, which is synonymous with concepts like the metaverse and artificial intelligence. Here, evolutionary progress is concerned, unsurprisingly for this filmmaker, with the raw, material fact of the body. It was evolution that made us human, refining us from early forms of man, in what Yuval Noah Harari calls the Cognitive Revolution. And here, Cronenberg asks why the next stage shouldn’t portend us becoming a whole new species.
This is concentrated through the delightfully pulpy story of a performance artist and his muse, connected in a network of other shadowy figures fighting for power and influence. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a man able to develop new, heretofore-unprecedented organs in his body, and he parlays this odd gift into an art-world career, where he unveils them to a live, hip audience with the help of a remote-controlled dissection machine. The freed organs, resembling hearts and livers, but shaped more like rare sea creatures, are then bottled and tattooed, for all to gawk at like a true objet d’art. Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon, has joined forces with Tenser as his work and life partner, operating the crustacean-like remote control with the required fine motor skill of her previous career. And what’s more, this is plausible in this story’s world because humans have also evolved to no longer experience physical pain. Cutting and injuries have merely become another way to feel a unique physical sensation, and this is unsurprisingly explored in tandem with sex.
But this is only one facet of a world and its intellectual and perceptual borders mutating before our very eyes. The most fascinating way the film connects to our own 2020s existence is through a metaphor, where attitudes to these weird changes can be seen as either progressive or reactionary. And Tenser is in an existential state, not knowing whether to stay as an informant to the “New Vice” law-enforcement squad, who keep tabs on and try to police these changes, or band with innovative industrialist Lang Daughtery (a brilliantly cast-against-type Scott Speedman), who is concerned with actually turning these organs into a new circulatory or digestive system.
Crimes of the Future is very much a “late” Cronenberg film, dovetailing with and referencing his more cerebral works like Videodrome, Crash and Cosmopolis [+see also:
film profile]. The latter is especially invoked through its stylised, literary dialogue, which at first seems to overly inhibit the actors’ naturalism, but the audience quickly adjusts if the rest of the film is working for them. And whilst his tenor is always cool and analytic, from roughly The Dead Zone on, Cronenberg has been able to invest his work with an air of such lyricism, here making Crimes of the Future into one of the most masterful and intellectually stimulating films at this year’s festival.
Crimes of the Future is co-production between Canada, Greece and France, staged by Argonauts Productions, Coficiné, Ingenious Media, Serendipity Point Films, Téléfilm Canada and Bell Media. Rocket Science is handling its international sales.
Photogallery 24/05/2022: Cannes 2022 - Crimes of the Future
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