Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future (the New One)

David Cronenberg is catching the Greek Weird Wave, filming his latest in the ancient but economically depressed nation. Aesthetically, they are perfect for each other. Body horror meets subversive, extreme anti-social behavior. Yet, according to Cronenberg’s vision of the future, both the body and society are evolving, but to what is yet to be determined in Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, not the one from 1970, the entirely new and unrelated one that opens this Friday in New York.

It is not exactly clear how far into the future this film takes us, or where, but the environment is vaguely Mediterranean, for obvious reasons. Cronenberg doesn’t exactly pander to viewers during the prologue, in which a mother smothers to death her son, for eating the plastic waste basket.

Those are definitely Weird Wave vibes. Saul Tenser delivers the body horror, but he calls it art. For years, his body has spontaneously generated new mutant organs, which his partner Caprice surgically removes during their performance art programs. Each organ is considered a work of art that the newly formed National Organ Registry duly records. Not surprisingly, the Registry’s two employees, Whippet and Timlin, are among Tenser’s biggest fans.

Lang Dotrice also closely follows Tenser’s work. In fact, he offers Tenser a concept for his next show: autopsying Dotrice’s son, Brecken, who was killed at the start of the film. Dotrice leads a mysterious cult that has genetically modified themselves, so they can only consume plastic waste. Brecken was the first of their progeny to naturally develop their ability to digest plastic, but he apparently creeped out his unevolved-human mother.

Cronenberg definitely brings the gross and the weird, but the story and characters are a bit sketchy. This is an idea film and a mood piece rather than an exercise in story-telling to hold viewers rapt. However, the mood is pretty darned moody. Even though this is the future, everything looks dark, decaying, and fetid, like it could be part of a shared world with
Naked Lunch, while the strange surgical and therapeutic devices look like they were inspired by the designs of H.R. Giger.

Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux are perfectly cast and do indeed create an intriguing relationship dynamic as Tenser and Caprice. Cronenberg raises some challenging questions about the roles they both play in creating art, particularly with regards to the nature of authorship and intentionality.

Unfortunately, characters like the two mechanics from a shadowy Vogt-like multinational company, who are constantly servicing Tenser’s feeding chair and pain-relieving beds could have stumbled out of dozens of uninspired dystopian films. (Frankly, the sort of bring to mind the
Super Mario Brothers movie, which is not a good thing.) Beyond Tenser and Caprice, the most interesting character might be Det. Cope of the new vice squad, who is trying to anticipate future crimes against the body. Welket Bungue portrays his hardboiledness with subtlety not found anywhere else in the film.

is the sort of film that is more interesting for its parts than its holistic viewing experience. The ways Tenser and Caprice relate to art and each other is strange and different. It is also cool to see Cronenberg going back to his core themes and motifs. However, the dystopian and environmental material are so stale and familiar, they arguably his vision. It should also be noted the film comes fully loaded with grotesque images.

Crimes of the Future is only really recommended for passionate Cronenberg fans, who will ooh and ah over every sinister gadget. In contrast, the rest of us mortals will get hung up on the thin story and cliched elements when the latest Crimes of the Future opens this Friday (6/3) in New York, at the AMC Lincoln Square.