There is a chair in “Crimes of the Future” that is just wildly unpleasant. It’s like a highchair that is made from teeth and spinal cords, and it tickles you while you eat. I do not like it. I do not like that it exists, even in a movie. I do not like that someone thought of it. There is also a bed that looks like a partially descended testicle with tentacles. I do not care for that either. The movie that surrounds these home furnishings from Satan’s IKEA is borderline fascinating if ultimately unfulfilling. So it’s sort of like an IKEA horsy meatball.
As with so much of his work, writer/director David Cronenberg’s latest is maddeningly almost riveting. It definitely says something about a lot of somethings, but all of those somethings don’t add up to something more. At the core of all of it all is human evolution. I’d say “Sorry, creationists!” but (A) I’m not and (B) there’s a 0.0% chance that a creationist is reading my review of “Crimes of the Future.”
Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a weirdo performance artist who dresses like a shitty ninja and grows a ton of never-before-seen organs inside his body. His partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), removes the internal anomalies without sedation, using a machine that looks like a cockroach coffin. This is because humans have evolved beyond pain. Presumably, this signals that the Joe Rogan show has finally been canceled.
Cronenbergian dystopia is dirty. So dirty. Like, the dirtiest. Sounds of flies permeate, and every surface in the film is covered in grody-grody grime. That is the setting, and those are the players. The narrative involves a murdered child, quantum leaps in human digestion, and Kristen Stewart as a quirky bureaucrat. More than any other performer here, she is a perfect blend of absurd and grotesque, of profound and silly. If only “Crimes of the Future” were a little more of either.
It’s rare that a movie is simultaneously this obvious and obtuse. The part where an artist “performs” by having pieces of himself pulled out and shown to the masses is…not a challenging metaphor. But what point is being made with the film’s climactic autopsy? What does the relationship between Caprice and Saul actually suggest about codependency and control? If “surgery is the new sex,” what does that really mean, other than that people are and always have been real, real gross?
This is where I’ve always struggled with Cronenberg. For all the trappings of “depravity” and body horror, his work has always felt stuck in the uncanny valley between painfully obvious and poorly articulated. So much of “Crimes of the Future” is truly, legitimately fascinating. But it’s like listening to a really smart friend rant so long that they lose the point, if there ever was one.
I am enthralled by the premise of aberrant evolution as a consequence of our collective responsibility-shirking. I would have loved to see a movie that had something more to say about that than the cinematic equivalent of doing a bad impression and saying “That’s you! That’s what you look and sound like.” Okay? So what? That said, I’ll be thinking about this one for months whereas I already can’t remember most of the codenames in “Top Gun: Maverick” already. I want to say one of them was “Narwhal” or something?
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Megan Navarro at Bloody Disgusting says “Even while anemic, Cronenberg continues to test the limits of human flesh like no other. His distinct vision, oddball characters, and soft-spoken yet dry sense of humor make this a welcome and deeply engrossing return to form.”
Kate Sánchez at But Why Tho? says “Cronenberg approaches his dystopia with a tender care that makes every scene an intimate moment, even when a spectacle. The deaths are intimate. The mutilation is voyeuristic. And all of it hums with a calmness I didn’t expect from Cronenberg.”
Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “ans of Cronenberg who have longed for a return of his bold vision will find enough to appreciate, although I suspect anyone else who dwells on it for too long will find the real crime is that it’s a waste of their time.”