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Crimes of the Future review: David Cronenberg questions what it means to be human in a deteriorating world

Despite all the gore, the organs and blood, Cronenberg is able to create a story with a lot of heart, with its politics at the right place and above all, a love story that is strangely erotic. 

  • Akshay Krishna

Last Updated: 08.47 AM, Jul 31, 2022

Crimes of the Future review: David Cronenberg questions what it means to be human in a deteriorating world

Story: In a dystopian future, human evolution is charging into its next step with people no longer able to feel pain. Surgery and body mutilation has now become the popular art form as the government wants to see to it that everything is in check. 

Review: David Cronenberg was dubbed ‘The king of visceral horror’ by fans a long time back, thanks to the master filmmaker's works that had a lot to say and a lot more to show. After a long hiatus, we have yet another Cronenberg film that has a lot to say, in the visually disturbing style that he is best known for. 

Set in an unspecified dystopian future, humankind is finally feeling the effects of its slow destruction of the world. As a result of years of pollution, technological backlashes and climate changes, the human body is ready to go to the next stage of its evolution. Humans no longer feel pain and a lot of them also have an illness where they produce new vestigial organs within themselves. While this is the case, self mutilation and surgery have become a form of art and pleasure, simply because it can now be done without knowing pain or without getting into trouble for it later. 

The film opens on a horrifying note, as we see a young boy living with his mother, who has the ability to eat into plastic as if it was a cupcake with fluffy toppings. As the mother puts an end to her son’s life, the film sets up for something that might not be for the light-hearted, but is a speculative treat for any film buff. 

The world that we are in has deteriorated everything that humans had once built for comfort. From washed out wallpapers to stained corners of houses, humans seem to have stopped caring. There are no traces of smartphones or vehicles, and all humans want now is to feel the pleasures of the flesh, but not the kind you have in mind. The most popular form of art seems to be where people cut into themselves and pull out the naturally growing neo-organs and our protagonists are two renowned performers. 

Viggo Mortensen, who has previously worked with the director, plays Saul Tenser, a man who has “accelerated evolution syndrome”, which causes new organs to grow inside of him. This puts him in a lot of pain, causing him a hard time to sleep or eat. He needs the aid of modern biotechnological tools for carrying out these processes. His stage partner is Caprice, played by Léa Seydoux. While the two have reached immense popularity, they also have to check out the bureaucratic offices which have been set up to organise and keep track of where human evolution and the latest “disease” could lead humanity. 

The film flows forward until it brews into a stage where we learn that there is a group of radical evolutionists who have chosen to modify their digestive system to make them able to eat plastics and other synthetic chemicals. And the first child we saw get murdered, was the first child to have the ability to do so naturally. While the artists are ready to team up and let the world know this truth, the government interferes as the truth is rather safer locked away. The film ends on a note that is most expected from a film from the great filmmaker, as Tenser embraces the truth about the next step of human evolution. 

Now what makes Crimes of the Future a great work is what the filmmaker opts to tell without really telling anything and the world that he sets up. We are now at a stage where pleasure is felt at the ability to destroy (which does not look like a long time away in the real world). “Surgery is the new sex,” says Kristen Stewart’s Timlin, as she plays another standout character with such conviction. The world has become rather one-dimensional but the one thing that has survived the destruction caused by years of human intervention, is technology itself.

The filmmaker begs the question of what it means to be human in the film, and often does not even hold back about how loud it gets. While the people who have survived still need the help of machines to do the most basic human tasks such as sleeping, a section of the same humans are tasked at trying to stop the next step towards survival. All the political and bureaucratic drama that might be taking place in the background aside, even on the surface level, this begs the question of what it means to be human - suffocating the needs of the body to tarnish it with the same toxics that have turned the world into a toxic wasteland.

Fans would know that the filmmaker has decided to borrow just the film’s title from one of his previous works. An answer as to why he would have done this is within the pudding. What exactly could be our crime against the future? While it might not be finding the power of art in what life throws at you or finding the power of revolution at a time of disobedience, it could very well be what we are doing to the planet right now. 

Cronenberg has cooked up a film that says a lot visually as well, albeit gory. Apart from all the guts and the blood, the film has a certain sensuality with it. Cinematographer Douglas Koch and the director have captured the essence of the film perfectly, where each movement made is to find the pleasure that is hard to find. While “hurting” themselves is the new form of pleasure and surgery is the new sex, each ounce of gore in the film comes with double the feel of pleasure to its characters. From Mortensen licking his lips as he is sliced open by his partner on stage to Léa Seydoux’s movements on the stick, it oozes sensuality. Weirdly enough, the film does not really care about any other form of sexual pleasure with Motensen even heard sayig that he is not good at the “old kind of sex”. 

The performances from each actor, in a film that does not rely on a lot of characters, is stellar. From Mortensen capturing the nuances of the pain that he is suffering to Seydoux still exploring herself, it was all on point. While at first glance Kristen Stewart might seem out of place, she produces yet another brilliant performance even though she does not have much to do. From the awkwardness to the feeling of being starstruck, she speaks a lot even when she does not. ‘

And finally, for a film that has one hidden line after the other in each scene and a whole lot of blood and visual turn offs, the film offers a love story that is like a raindrop on the heart. Clocked in the magnanimity of the red stained frames, Mortensen and Seydoux also play a pair that wants to just own each other, in the most beautiful of ways. While we did get to see actual hearts on screen, these two stole my heart. 

Verdict: Crimes of the Future is a work that will stand the test of time from a master filmmaker who has once again aced his craft. Even with all the gore and visceral horror, the film’s ability to tell a lot by not really telling anything is its biggest standout. Great performances from everyone involved also makes it one for the film buffs.