What You Eat
Crimes Of The Future
Directed by David Cronenberg
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Warning: Spoilers all over this one as I want
to talk about it properly. Please don’t read my
take on it until after you’ve seen the movie...
which you need to see if you are into the
art of cinema in any way, shape or form.
So Cronenberg returns triumphant with a great new film called, wait for it, Crimes Of The Future... which was also the original working title for his excellent eXistenZ and the title of his earlier short film (reviewed by me here). Now, first of all, let me address the elephant in the room which seems to be the little ‘out of place’ and unduly sensationalistic reportage of this film. I don’t know why people have been walking out of this one and putting it about that it’s somehow controversial but, no, it really isn’t. By modern horror film standards it’s actually quite tame (I just watched The Sadness, reviewed here, the other night so, please!) and, actually, this one isn’t even a horror film... it’s one of Cronenberg’s science fiction films, lacking the horror element completely. It maybe comes on as minor body horror but, I’ve always found that label a little problematic because, nine times out of ten, body horror movies don’t really shift into the horror genre, to be honest.
That aside, though, I always find Cronenberg a bit hit and miss... although more hit than miss I’d have to say and, if you like his work, then I’m happy to report that Crimes Of The Future is actually quite a charming and playful, fun movie. It’s properly old school Cronenberg delivered with the kind of visual sophistication which he started delivering as an aesthetically polished concept in the 1980s-1990s period of his work, I believe. I wasn’t expecting this to be as good as some of the movies I regard as his classics... such as Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Crash and eXistenZ... in fact, I wasn’t expecting it to be much at all considering the, presumably manufactured ‘controversy’ hype used as a tool for marketers. But I have to say that it’s not only harkening back to a classic period of this director’s work, it’s also one of Mr. C’s best films, definitely in the top five of my favourite Cronenberg movies.
The film is set in a future which, it’s implied visually but not revealed, has survived some kind of apocalyptic event or possible evolutionary cull. The colour palette used throughout seems to be very dulled down, neutral and pastel versions of colours and everything seems consistent with that kind of aesthetic throughout... everything dialled back a notch and then infused with beiges, yellows, creams, blues and greens, I believe. Following an opening where a young boy starts eating his plastic wastepaper bin and then is smothered to death by his mother, our two main protagonists are introduced... Saul Tenser, played by Viggo Mortensen and Caprice, played by Léa Seydoux. The two are performance artists of some esteem. Humans don’t feel a lot of pain these days, the ability has left them but, Saul is one of those who still can and who is continually growing new, mysterious internal organs in his body, which Caprice then cuts out of him as the performance, using a Sark unit with robot arms wielding scalpels.... pulling apart new incisions, retrieving and slicing the organ in question and presenting it to the public (I’m assuming the Sark unit is derived from the term sarcophagous here).
However, after registering his next organ with a new, secret company called the National Organ Registry, things start to get complicated. Tenser meets Wippet, played by Don McKellar and Timlin, played by Kristen Stewart. We also meet the two maintenance technicians who come to service his organic bed (used to help him monitor and cultivate new internal organs) and feeding furniture (to help him eat), called Berst, played by Tanaya Beatty and Router, played by Nadia Litz. For reasons that become apparent later in the movie, the playful nature and agenda of these two struck me as being a female version of Wint and Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever (reviewed here). We also meet Scott Speedman in the best performance I’ve seen him give, as Lang Dotrice, father of the murdered child at the start, who wants Saul and Caprice to do a show based on the autopsy of his kid, for reasons which become apparent after Saul discovers he’s part of a cult of people surgically altered to consume plastic instead of food, in easy to consume chocolate looking bars referred to by one as ‘candy’. Of course, given Cronenberg’s passion for Philip K. Dick as evidenced quite explicitly in eXistenZ along with other movies, I couldn’t help but think this was also a reference to Can-D and Chew-Z from Dick’s novel The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, which wouldn’t be the first time the director has referenced this specific novel.
However, a part of what qualifies as the government, as manifested by Welket Bungué playing a detective of the Body Crime Unit, are very much interested in this group of people, especially since the dead child has, it is rumoured, inherited the evolved genetic trait of consuming plastic from his father, rather than be surgically altered. All this is going on while Saul has registered for an Inner Beauty Pageant - Category: Best Original Organ With No Known Function... but he’s also an informant for the Body Crime Unit, unknown to Caprice but, as the film progresses, you realise a few of the people who he comes into contact with might know this already.
And its great. One of the buzz phrases associated with the marketing of the film is that ‘Surgery is the new sex’ which, I thought nothing of but it turns out that this is also a mantra of a few of the people in the movie and, certainly Saul and Caprice indulge their mutual sexuality in this way. With Saul controlling the Sark with a remote unit quite reminiscent of the pods in eXistenZ, she lays naked, enjoying each stroke as he slices up her flesh for her sexual pleasure, before putting the unit on remote and joining her. In another scene, she unzips the scar of a new hardware access point from something put in him to monitor the Inner Beauty Pageant and starts licking his open wound which is given and received in much the same manner as a blow job. The punchline to all this comes later when Kirsten Stewart, who coins the phrase ‘Surgery is the new sex’ in the movie, tries to instigate sex with him through a passionate kiss and he rejects her after a minute stating, “I’m not very good at the old sex.” So, yeah, as much as people are calling this one an edgy film, it’s more full of humour, almost to the level where at some points it’s almost functioning purely as a comedy.
And being as it’s Cronenberg, it all looks fantastic. There’s a brilliant moment where a shot is split vertically by the frame of a door. The door opening on the left with Stewart standing in it, with yellowy beige walls behind her and with Léa standing on the right against the wall of the room in which the camera is placed, the wall cream coloured behind her. It’s such a striking shot composition that one could be forgiven for thinking Cronenberg had used a split screen for the shot... it’s that much of a contrast, in spite of using colours which wouldn’t have a lot of perceived contrast against each other in a busier shot. The film is full of this kind of good stuff and you are constantly reminded you are in the hands of a master director all the time.
Once slight criticism might be that the blood effects in the film look like they’re handled by CGI. They may not be but, they do look like they don’t have much substance to them. At least to me. I have no idea how the effects were achieved but it might be a trade off to easily include the concept of the Sark unit (an earlier conceptual version of which was seen in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, if memory serves).
And one observation, rather than criticism, is that time seems to drift without warning in the film. Everything seems to be taking place in close proximity to earlier events but, as you go through, you realise days, weeks or possibly even months may have taken place between one sequence and the next with no real warning. I was fine with that and the progression of people and organisations over this time can be easily tracked either visually or in details of the text but, I suspect some people may find this a barrier... not an insurmountable one though and I kind of grew to like that freestyle attitude to the story after a while. And it is a proper story, people... this one more than most of Cronenberg’s is actually leading up to a moment in the last shot which, once you think about the consequences of what you are seeing, actually has a meaning and resonance that hints at an actual evolutionary process in a certain direction without direct provocation. So that was pretty cool.
And all of this is supported by a typically Cronenbergian score, provided by the director's frequent collaborator Howard Shore and, frankly, the biggest crime of the future, in regard to this movie, is that this brilliant score at time of writing, has not been issued on a proper CD. Come on people, get your act together. People need a proper release of this stuff on the only format worth listening to it on.
And, apart from me singling out Kirsten Stewart’s performance as being brilliantly against type... I’m used to seeing her play very confident characters, not nervous and excitable people... I will leave you with a solid recommendation for Crimes Of The Future. It oozes old school Cronenberg charm and I found it hugely entertaining. He really knocked it out of the park here.