crimes of the future

Image: Michelangelo Pistoletto


Commentary on David Cronenberg's film, currently showing in theaters

If David Cronenberg's cinema is a continuous reflection on the interactions and contaminations between the organic, the mechanical and the human, crimes of the future it is his most radical and mature work – at least so far, as this almost octogenarian Canadian never ceases to amaze us.

This time, the story of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is told, a man whose body begins to develop new organs on its own. With his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), he weeds out anomalies in crowded public performances. Around the duo of artists, a Kafkaesque web of organ inspectors, customs police and clandestine groups is emerging, committed to developing a new humanity adapted to the natural degeneration of the planet.

At least in part, what makes the new film even more disconcerting than the previous ones, at the risk of displeasing many viewers, is its inaccurate space-time – and psychological – setting. I'll try to explain.

Em The fly (1986), for example, the oddity stemmed from an unsuccessful teleportation experience; in eXistenZ (1999) it was a virtual reality game; in naked lunch (1992) the absurd was born from a writer's mind altered by drugs, etc.

Em crimes of the future we are in an uncertain space-time terrain, in which the most advanced digital technology is exercised in a dark and “old” environment, marked by architectural ruins and by obsolete furniture and appliances. Unlike a blade runner, in which this discrepancy conferred a charm Black to police drama and science fiction, here the atmosphere is that of a nightmare, accentuated by the nocturnal and somber setting, in which a good part of the space (and the bodies themselves) is always immersed in darkness.

surgery and sex

The most advanced devices of crimes of the future – from the bed that adapts to the body to the chair that feeds it, passing through the console that controls the surgical interventions – have apparently organic components, resembling strange animals. A forerunner of this symbiosis is the eXistenZ, which was made of animal bones and cartilage and had human teeth as projectiles.

In David Cronenberg's peculiar universe, man is a being in mutation, as well as his natural and artificial environment. The central question is to know who controls this metamorphosis: the individual, the State, the art market, economic power? It is, at bottom, a political problem, as well as a moral and aesthetic one. The most disturbing of all is perhaps the erotic dimension that the filmmaker sees and makes us see in the body transformation, something already announced in Gemini (1988) Crash (1996) and eXistenZ and in the novel Consumed (Alfaguara), but which now seems to reach a peak, not to say ecstasy.

“Surgery is the new sex,” lewdly says Timlin (Kristen Stewart), a pervert in neo-Pentecostal believer clothes. The mismatch between the costume and the behavior of the character Timlin is not the only ambiguity in the scene. Saul Tenser himself, a biological experimenter, avant-garde artist and defender of individual freedom, is dressed in the hooded habit of an inquisitive monk, even reminiscent of the traditional personification of death. Strictly speaking, everything is ambiguous and elusive in crimes of the future, and no meaning can be apprehended unequivocally.

The human body, for David Cronenberg, is a self-moving machine with its own will, of which its owner is not always aware. “For me, art is always a carnal experience. I'm always trying to show that on screen in a, shall we say, metaphorical way. What I want is to get us back to the body. Saying: 'Let's not forget our bodies'”, declared the filmmaker in an interview with Folha de S. Paul in 1999. crimes of the future it is the newest stage of this quest, one of the most coherent, integral and courageous of contemporary cinema.

*Jose Geraldo Couto is a film critic. Author, among other books, of André Breton (Brasiliense).

Originally published on CINEMA BLOG


Crimes of the future (Crimes of the Future)

Canada, Greece, United Kingdom, France, 2022.

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Welket Bungué.

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