Crimes of the Future (2022), David Cronenberg [4.5/5]
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future (2022) thrills as evocative, body horror sci-fi on first viewing, only revealing its political subplot after you’ve digested it, when its foreign and often disturbing internal logic molds to the reason of our world. Like an M. John Harrison novel set to Howard Shore's synthy ambient score, the world suggests the fall of some earlier civilization in which otherworldly futurist tech has sprouted up through the cracks of our ruins.
As someone who has been eagerly following Cronenberg's work for years, I was happy to see that Crimes built on the themes of his previous sci-fi films Dead Ringers, eXistenZ, Crash, and The Fly; it is concerned with the relationship between humans and their bodies and it delights in disturbing our sense that we live in somatic, human pods. This time around, we follow a duo of performance artists, Saul Tenser and Caprice, who take advantage of a new evolutionary quirk of bodily painlessness to exhibit public surgeries in the name of creative expression.
Aside from art, slicing people open has taken on an intimate, even pleasurable place in this culture; "surgery is the new sex," a fan tells Tenser after a show. In peak Cronenbergian fashion, Crimes combines the psychosexual elements of Crash with the squeamish, fleshy invasiveness of eXistenZ and Dead Ringers.
The government has responded to these evolutionary developments with a National Organ Registry which restricts the spontaneous growth of new organs through cataloguing. The ending, seemingly opaque at first, discloses more when revisited, layering the story with a political dimension in which an anti-government sect tries to free humanity from these regulations and build a new species of plastic-eating evolutionists.
Further still, there is an underground of political assassins sent presumably by big corp who benefit from the regulated evolutionary stagnation to stop the word from getting out: "we can evolve to eat the plastic!" But of course a plot this detailed could defeat a film. Cronenberg is clever to only tell us what we have to know when we absolutely have to know it; he doesn't hold our hand narratively.
With little exposition, Cronenberg weaponizes his body horror (and how terrifying it is to see Viggo Mortensen sliced open to orgasmic pleasure) to reinforce a sense of alien estrangement from these "humans." Through visceral bodies and tonal warehouse-like spaces, he begs the question, will evolution dehumanize us beyond recognition? (without ever winking at the camera or standing on a soapbox). 4.5/5 stars, a brilliantly probing piece of formalist science fiction which might be too much for casual viewers but which rewards those with an iron stomach.