For the past few weeks, I’ve been fuming at boutique distributor Neon, which was waffling on whether or not to preview screen “Crimes of the Future” in my market, or anywhere near me.
Coupled with a general lack of advertising, this latest outing in oddity from David Cronenberg seemed more likely to be one of those movies that “escapes” rather earns a decently-promoted release.
But after seeing it, I feel the poor marketers’ pain. Sure, they should have pitched this as a horror mindf–k, something the cognoscenti would know to look for and be sure to find. Everybody else? “Hard pass” is putting it politely.
Cronenberg’s dark and cynical vision is “Crash” stripped of the eroticism and extrapolated into the not-distant-enough future. There are nods to his “Videodrome” and “Dead Ringers,” too, for those Deep into the Cinema of David.
It alternates between challenging and unpleasant, and is just dull enough to blur the line between the two.
“Crimes” is a story of a world in which the human senses have been wholly-dulled, with pain and much illness banished and sensations in general in retreat. “Performance Art” has replaced podcasting as people’s mania for attention hasn’t abated. Entropy and cultural decay are reflected in the weathered, abandoned or long gone-to-seed settings (the exteriors were shot in Greece). Surgery has turned faddish, and the human body seems to be evolving in ways that don’t bode well for our survival.
Saul Tensor, played by Cronenberg muse Viggo Mortensen (“A History of Violence”) is a celebrated artist cowled and masked in black, a man who grows tumors by accident, removes them by design — often in public, with the aid of his former doctor, now lover/performance art partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) — and “catalogs” them, which has earned the interest of the unfunded National Organ Registry, staffed by Wippet (Don McKellar) and his assistant Timlin (a breathless, whispery Kristen Stewart), who is a Saul Tensor fangirl, it turns out.
Tensor’s “making art out of anarchy” created in his body, Caprice declares. His Accelerated Evolution Syndrome makes him notorious.
That’s why Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman) also eyes him with interest. “Evolution” interests Dotrice, especially since we’ve seen his odd little boy (Sozos Sotiris) smothered by his disturbed and with good reason mother (Lihi Kornowski).
Tell him to “come fetch the corpse of that creature he calls a son,” she tells an intermediary.
Cronenberg’s return to science fiction after a 20-year-plus vacation from the genre serves up his trademark nauseating surgery, sickening eating/vomiting scenes and lots and lots of (mostly) female nudity. The exotic technology displayed in these abandoned-bunker sets, where some live, some work and performance artists perform, is insectoid and under-explained, leaving us to figure out why FutureFolk need the assistance of a rocking, rolling and spoon-feeding exoskeleton chair to eat.
This long-shelved script takes the plastic-choked, notoriety-obsessed and increasingly insensate present into “end game” territory. The world we have is headed towards a future like this, Cronenberg seems to be saying, when old laws and punishments don’t fit new crimes and perversions of humanity.
Well, that’s MY interpretation and I’m sticking with it.
Welket Bungué plays a New Vice cop on the case of what Tensor and Caprice are about, and what he suspects the mysterious Lang Dotrice has in mind for himself and “the corpse of that creature he calls a son.”
That’s a lot of exposition, and it doesn’t cover every character or very many of the situations set up here. The movie’s like that, filled with explanations, begging for still more, and struggling to find something interesting to do with this universe he’s created.
Mortensen is intense, quiet and reflective, Stewart more mannered than usual — her character is practically dry-humping the idea of self-injury as “art” and showmanship — and Seydoux is loving, supportive and naked, which is kind of her thing as well.
Movies that make you come to them are, by definition, thought-provoking. But aside from concentrating and grasping at any actor, character or plot wrinkle that might let us “into” Cronenberg’s world and thought processes, there isn’t anything here that invites, entertains or even titillates.
The “outrage” the picture generates isn’t so much directed at the state of things now dooming us to the state of things depicted here, with the “humanity” of humans somehow at stake. It’s more of the icky, gooey, “What revolting thing HASN’T David Cronenberg shown us in “Scanners,” “Naked Lunch,” “The Fly” and so on?
Which makes most of this review superfluous, when all I really want to say about “Crimes of the Future” is “Yeah? And?”
Rating: R for strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity and some language
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Lihi Kornowski, Welket Bungué and Scott Speedman.
Credits: Written and irected by David Cronenberg. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:45