*. Crimes of the Future was David Cronenberg’s first film in 8 years (and first original script in over 20) but wasn’t as much a big change in direction as it was a throwback, as even the title suggests (Crimes of the Future was also the name of one of Cronenberg’s first movies, a lifetime ago in 1970). Put another way, the crimes of the future we see here are really the crimes of the past, or a future that’s grounded in Cronenberg’s vision of the 1990s.
*. Instead of a gleaming city of the future and scientists in lab coats we have some dark and dirty streets that look like Interzone from Naked Lunch (the film was actually shot in Greece) and a hero named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) who dresses like a homeless ninja. Even the tech is laughably crude. There is a breakfast chair that seems designed to frustrate digestion and a surgery pod that looks like a scaled-up version of the children’s game Operation.
*. Cronenberg’s aim, and theme, remains alienation. Alienation from our own bodies and alienation of the audience. The idea here is that growing designer internal organs has become a form of high art or mass entertainment (nobody is reading books or watching movies in the future), meaning that “surgery is the new sex.” That said, and despite all the potential such an idea has for gross-out body horror, I really didn’t find it repulsive or shocking at all. And I imagine anyone going into it expecting to see a scary or gory movie was likely disappointed, not to mention bored by all the talk.
*. Almost equally alienating are the performances, which are (again, true to form with Cronenberg) almost anti-human. Without subtitles I wouldn’t have had a clue what Kristen Stewart (looking “attractive, in a bureaucratic kind of way”) was saying, as she seems to have turned her preferred form of whispering/muttering her lines into a trademark now. Mortensen, who apparently could barely walk due to a recent injury, sounds like he’s been growing a new organ in his throat as he is barely able to rasp out a few words at a time. Léa Seydoux is suitably foreign even before she gets implants to turn her into one of the freaks.
*. I’m not going to go into the plot, as you’ll have guessed it’s more or less just a clothesline for Cronenberg to hang his usual anxieties on. He’s like a literary scholar doing a deep dive into the text of the body, or a psychoanalyst digging into the subconscious and only to find (no surprise) a brain with “Mother” tattooed on it. Whether all of it really looks forward to a merging of man and machine, as films like Videodrome and eXistenZ did, or back to something more primitive and archetypal I couldn’t say. Meanwhile, the retro pull feels strong here, and we’re very much in a (painfully) analog not digital world.
*. It’s a movie that didn’t do much for me in any respect. Some of the ideas seemed kind of interesting, and thinking about directed evolution as a fetish is a pregnant parable for our time, especially with the fillip about transforming our digestive tracts so that we can consume plastic. But the exposition was mostly dull and off-putting in a deliberate way, and you have the sense of flipping through scraps from the cutting room floor of Cronenberg’s oeuvre, and finding props that don’t quite fit, weird furniture ready to be marked down, and what feel like deleted scenes from other movies thrown in.
*. More than anything, I came away thinking that Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor (2020) was in every respect not just a better movie but a better Cronenberg movie, done up very much in the style of his father. There’s nothing wrong with this Crimes of the Future, but there’s nothing new here either, and while it’s weird it doesn’t feel weird enough to make much of an impression.