REVIEW: Crimes of the Future [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 107 minutes
    Release Date: June 2nd, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Neon
    Director(s): David Cronenberg
    Writer(s): David Cronenberg

Body is reality.

Much like how heartbreak proves necessary for love, pain is needed for life. To live anesthetized is to simply exist—unfeeling, unbothered, unmoved. It’s no wonder then that National Organ Registry investigator Wippet (Don McKellar) would chuckle when admitting how performance art has become the new rage. Everyone wants to be that thing that breaks through the monotony. They want to both push themselves to the point of artistic beauty through their numbed bodies and inspire audiences to do the same. Not everyone is equally successful, though. When emotion is all but extinct, you could be forgiven for not quite figuring out there needs to be more than mere concept. That’s why Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) are unparalleled. They tap into humanity’s primordial desires.

It’s through them that writer/director David Cronenberg (who went into pre-production on an earlier draft named Painkillers back in 2003 before it evaporated) guides us into the future world at the center of Crimes of the Future (no relationship to the auteur’s previous film of the same name from 1970). He is afflicted by Accelerated Evolution Syndrome, a condition wherein his body grows new vestigial organs that may or may not be evidence of an evolutionary leap forward if allowed to continue past their tumor stage. Such people are closely monitored by law enforcement and governmental agencies in much the same way comics deal with mutants manifesting abilities. At what point does man become monster? In an era of emotionless order, when does mere aberration become uncontrollable danger?

Saul agrees with these sentiments. He hates his body’s penchant for internal biological growths, but also understands their value. As such, he teams with Caprice to turn the ritual of their removal into an art form of sensual and sensorial pornography. Her surgeon cuts into him as he’s awake thanks to a Lifeform-branded autopsy pod rejiggered into a “paintbrush.” While paying guests look on from around them, Caprice’s fingers massage a malleably gooey keyboard so its lasers and spreaders can access each “non-human” organ so they can be tattooed and excised. All this while he remains awake—not because it’s painless, but because he’s one of the few of us that still feels pain. That is what draws the crowds. His squirms and winces are akin to erotica.

If you’re thinking that’s all vibes and no plot, you’re not wrong. In many respects, Cronenberg has pushed the latter aside for the former with full intent. He wants us to experience this world as a thought experiment on morality and mankind’s penchant to pretend as though law and order are crucial to preserving humanity when the concept oftentimes destroys it as well. Saul becomes our surrogate on that journey, himself a conflicted creature with a keen awareness towards his status as both a potential subversive and willing turncoat. He is intrigued by those who are like him, but he also fears what may result. So, he embraces the underground scene of which he’s legend while also voluntarily informing on it to the police (Welket Bungué‘s Detective Cope).

Saul’s notoriety and wealth places him at the epicenter of true change whether he likes it or not. He has the equipment (“Lifeform” also manufactures fleshy beds that adapt to pain centers to constantly move him into a comfortable position before each pang can arrive and bone-like chairs in perpetual convulsion to help ease the digestion process when eating), the mainstream appeal (Wippet and his partner Timlin, played by Kristen Stewart as an oddity of ticks and awkwardness, see him as their thus far secretive agency’s avenue towards legitimacy), and the access (Cope can keep tabs on every newcomer to the Accelerated Evolution Syndrome game via illegal surgeries and celebrations of unchecked mutation). The more Saul learns, however, the more he questions his position. Maybe he’s been wrong.

Enter Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman). He’s the key to everything—the throughline from prologue to epilogue as the father of a boy his ex-wife labels “creature” and leader of a yet unknown group men and women subsisting on what appears like non-descript protein bars. Lang enlists Saul and Caprice’s expertise to expose a truth that he believes will change how the world sees everything. And while Saul isn’t conscious of that truth, he is intrigued by the prospect of the act he’s being asked to perform. With one foot in the art sphere and the other with law enforcement, though, he takes it upon himself to do some sleuthing first. Always shrouded in a cloak, coughing, and hobbled with pain, he slinks through the shadows to discover answers.

What those answers hold is undeniably captivating and what makes Crimes of the Future worth a look regardless of whether you believe it has all been executed to perfection. The practical effects look like they’re holdovers from Cronenberg’s 1999 underrated gem eXistenZ and the computer effects can skew cartoonish, but the whole has a fantastically farcical nature to it that makes such details work for it rather than ruin any play at “reality.” The acting follows suit with everyone breathlessly delivering lines like horned-up teenagers desperate for the release that cutting and being cut provides since, as Timlin’s epiphany post-Caprice/Saul performance relates, “surgery is the new sex.” Cronenberg depicts this staid environment unversed in emotion and ecstasy in a way that overloads our senses, for better or worse.

I think it works. The result is messy and circuitous (the repetition of dialogue gets old quick with multiple characters relaying exposition we already know over and over again as if Cronenberg isn’t sure he can trust his audience), but it’s also provocative and funny in strange and alluring ways like only he can achieve. Those moments that go over-the-top do all but smack us in the face and yet the heightened awareness created during that process does prove necessary to comprehend just how miraculous any display of passion by these characters is. It’s no coincidence that the final frame is of a tear of joy. When all we’ve seen is repression and yearning, proof that bliss still remains becomes our prize. That’s humanity. Organic tissue be damned.

courtesy of Neon

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