Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Nadia Litz, Tanaya Beatty, Lihi Kornowski, Welket Bungué
Words: C. Abbott
“Surgery is the new sex.” A line that feels quintessentially David Cronenberg. It punctuates the very heart of his latest work, and first sci-fi horror in nearly 20 years, Crimes of the Future. It’s an explosive fusion of technology, sensuality, brutality and our slow decline of basic human instincts. Essentially, it is a culmination of a lifetime of filmmaking, harking back to his work in Videodrome (1983), Crash (1996) and of course his 1970 short which shares the same title as the new release, though is squarely independent from it.
Set in a strange future, humanity is rapidly adapting to its synthetic environment. Evolutionary progress is running rampant, causing a divide between people in the classical sense, and the birth of a new species. There are transformations, mutations and mutilations – the “new sex”. Saul Tenser, played with a claustrophobic intensity by Viggo Mortensen, is a celebrity performance artist that is praised for his open-surgery artwork. He finds himself caught between the old and this uncomfortable new, in a brutalist landscape that blurs the line between the technological and the physical.
The visual landscape seemingly calls back to other seminal works, with bizarre, wheezing breakfast chairs straight out of the pages of HR Giger, a melding of body and tech that comes from the world of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and a synth soundtrack that is pulled from the glorious depths of the 1980s. For the latter, Cronenberg’s frequent collaborator returns, Howard Shore, providing a heavy electronic rhythm that perfectly pulsates throughout the film.
Though, what audiences will be immediately struck by, and remember long after leaving the cinema, is the consistent gore. It’s strangely hypnotic as intended, with humans no longer feeling pain in this world, they open themselves up in a deeply intimate way. Saul literally enters an “inner beauty contest,” with the physical form becoming indistinguishable from the soul itself. As he opens himself up to the orgasmic awe of his audience, the thrill they derive from it is both disturbing and enlightening.
Léa Seydoux’s alluring Caprice, Saul’s artistic partner, shares these performances with him, with the two in sync with their desires, no different from the sexually charged and often disturbed relationships at the core of Cronenberg’s filmography. Sex is everywhere here, and also completely absent. Children are no longer born, they are an “invention” by altered humans. Saul himself admits to not performing the “old sex” well. The intimacy we understand has all but vanished, instead only fetishized mutilation remains.
The entire film appears to be a statement on how technology is changing, not only society, but the very core of humanity. The more we allow tech to enter our lives, dictate it, the further we drift away what it means to live a human experience. Could our synthetic world take us away from our most basic instincts? Cronenberg seems to suggest it isn’t out of the question.