Crimes of the Future: Review
Crimes of the Future Synopsis: Humans adapt to a synthetic environment with new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
The pain-inducing surgical process transforms into a new wave pop culture phenomenon in writer/director David Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes of the Future. Grotesque surgeries transforming into a tool of artistic expression, pleasure, and politicking represents a concept only Cronenberg could dream into existence. The aging director remains a singular presence in the Hollywood ecosystem, with masterworks like The Fly, Crash, and Cosmopolis drawing fascinating ruminations from their dreary dystopian landscapes.
Returning to the director’s chair after an eight-year reprieve, Crimes of the Future represents a return to form for Cronenberg. The project modernizes a concept Cronenberg previously devised in the early 2000s before falling apart in pre-production. Thankfully, the material’s conceits have only aged better with time.
Steeped in unrelenting apathy and detachment, Crimes of the Future conjures thought-provoking ruminations on our modern worldview. It’s a distinctly Cronenberg film – a feature that’s undeterred by modern sensibilities and unafraid of pushing its provocative premise to uncompromising places.
Cronenberg’s dystopian settings are always fascinating places to get lost in. The director drenches every frame in a dreary atmosphere, utilizing somber color pallets and precise lighting choices in his representation of a world drained of its inherent pulse. From Cinematographer Douglas Koch’s intimate framing choices to Howard Shore’s nightmarish score, every artistic choice enhances the lingering dread into an intoxicatingly visceral experience.
There are a seldom few auteurs that can transform indie budgetary constraints into an artistic asset like Cronenberg. Details like clunky surgical modules and bizarre evolutions of the human form take on added effectiveness through the realism of textured practical effects work. Cronenberg also showcases a deft hand in his balance of repugnant detail and unknown horrors regarding the controversial surgery sequences (they drew several walkouts during the film’s Cannes premiere). The surgeries’ grotesque shock value represent the type of raw provocation that the writer/director has effectively mastered during his career.
Crimes of the Future never allows its high-concept premise to feel senseless. Reveling in dystopian futures’ deeper connotations remains a specialty of Cronenberg’s work. In a landscape where surgical mutations represent a form of evolution, Cronenberg cleverly ties the avant-garde movement into our culture’s habitual actions. Degrading one’s self in search of purpose is a common theme in both realities. Saul and Caprice’s act could be comparable to exhibitors in any artform, with their existence ultimately becoming a consumable product for society’s entertainment.
The surgeries themselves take on a slew of meanings for each character. Whether the mutilations represent an intoxicating drug, a captivating artistic lens, a provocative form of gratification, or a tool for propaganda by external forces, Cronenberg keenly analyzes how our obsessions with synthetic facets, like celebrity, technology, and internet culture, represent our own disillusionment with the world around us. The writer/director also realizes the inherent farce in a lot of the pretentious surgery movement, including several bitting satirical barbs to counterbalance the overwhelming dread.
Other meditations on bureaucracy’s transfixing hold on the human form and society’s overriding ambivalence also linger effectively (the connections to the ongoing abortion debate are particularly potent). It’s a testament to Cronenberg’s abilities that Crimes of the Future never feels like a didactic thesis. Instead, concepts weave seamlessly into each other as the film offers audiences several new avenues to digest for future viewings. I can see some claiming that these themes are familiar territory for Cronenberg, but his ruminations still feel piercingly relevant today.
A skilled veteran cast helps tremendously in selling the material’s underlying conceits. As Saul, Viggo Mortensen inhabits a decrypt presence as a canvas for surgical meddling. Donning a black cloak and weakened physique, Mortensen allows Saul’s subdued presence to magnify the torment experienced in the name of his work. Likewise, Léa Seydoux remains a compelling presence as the artistically ambitious Caprice, while Kristen Stewart’s raspy, overbearing delivery serves as the perfect encapsulation of fandom culture.
Crimes of the Future elicits a daring and artistically-invigorating experience from its high-concept premise. It’s a joy to see Cronenberg still throw his signature fastball after spending nearly a decade on the sidelines.