Crimes of the Future

The Canadian film director David Cronenberg has been consistently grossing out audiences for over fifty years. He is the undisputed face of body horror, a storyteller who spends no time deciphering between the grotesque and the sensual. Pain and sex co-mingle often, as they do explicitly in his latest film, Crimes of the Future. This is Cronenberg’s first film since 2014’s Maps to the Stars, perhaps his worst. The world seems to have completely changed in those eight years, but Cronenberg’s world is comfortingly familiar, equal parts funhouse-mirror nightmare and hilarious absurdity. The genius of the 79-year-old director is that he never confines his films to just one thing. They’re all twisted, hysterical, and horny; often all at the same time.

Crimes‘ tagline, “Surgery is the New Sex”, is a good harbinger of what’s to come. Viggo Mortenson and Léa Seydoux play a performance art duo, whose personal and professional relationship has merged together. Mortenson plays Saul Tenser, a man afflicted with “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome”, which means unknown organs have started growing and accumulating inside his body. He’s turned his disease into a performance, where his partner Caprice (Seydoux) performs public surgeries on him to remove the unwanted new organs. To them, these growths are not unlike tumors, a sign that his haggard pulmonary system has begun to attack itself. Turning it into “art” is Saul’s attempt to regain agency over his own dysfunctioning body. There is some debate over who is the real artist, he or Caprice? The person who provides the raw materials or the one who uses the tools? To them, there is no separation between the subject and the practitioner, both are essential to their newly-gained notoriety.

Cronenberg centering a film on a pair of body horror artists avoids feeling on the nose because the writer-director has a touching tenderness for them and their plight. They exist in a dystopian future, where human pain has all but vanished and the thrill of self-mutilation has become vogue. Even within the onslaught of people cutting up themselves and others (“desktop surgeries” are a popular trend), Saul and Caprice separate themselves with an artist’s integrity. Their function in society is not shock value but conceptual thought. It’s hard to watch Crimes of the Future and not see a movie about Cronenberg himself. The maestro behind such gross-out classics as ScannersVideodrome, and The Fly makes a stunning case for his own relevance, and it should come as no surprise to fans of his work that the argument is romantic and intellectual.

As Saul and Caprice’s fame grows, they attract attention and scrutiny. Two members of the National Organ Registry, Wippet (Don McKellar) and his awkward partner Timlin (a manic and mannered Kristen Stewart), fervently wish to explore the infamous insides of Saul and gain access to his hot-ticket performances. Then there’s Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), the leader of a controversial movement of people who were surgically altered to digest synthetic material. Lang’s son, Brecken (Sozos Sotiris), is murdered in the opening scene; he’s the first known human to be born with the ability to eat plastic, but Brecken’s mother (Lihi Kornowski) is so disturbed by the behavior that she smothers him. Wandering outside it all is Detective Cope (Welket Bungué), of the “New Vice” division, specializing in the burgeoning underworld of body crime.

Wippet, Lang, and Cope all see Saul and Caprice as a tool toward exposing truths about the unseemly details of human evolution. There are subtle, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to the spiraling climate being a factor in this development of new organs, but Crimes of the Future is mostly focused on the hapless behavior of the human race. In a world without pain, there is still conflict. Realities of new ways of living are scuttered away by bureaucratic arms and private citizens alike. Despite his artistic ambition, Saul is also a man crippled by discomfort and pain, and Caprice is a woman dedicated to helping him. They perform their surgeries as a search for self-acceptance. There is something very soothing about their unconventional love story. The strength of their relationship powers them through a time of unspeakable bleakness, which felt very true to life in 2022.

There are plenty of expected, Cronenberg-ian grotesqueries. There’s the surgeries, but there’s also Saul’s specialized bed and eating chair, whose design and texture bear a striking resemblance to the monstrous aliens in Independence Day. The peak might be a man whose mouth and eyelids are sewed shut, and whose body is covered with dozens of ears, performing an interpretive dance (a character in the film remarks that that might be a bit melodramatic). More surprisingly might be how funny Crimes of the Future is, recognizing the preposterousness of its central conceit. No one does a better job of reflecting this than Stewart, whose mousy but unhinged Timlin is a hilarious example of the film’s winking obsession with the carving of human flesh. High art criticism in the form of freaky human malformation. Few other than Cronenberg could even think of such a thing. The eight years were worth the wait.


Written and Directed by David Cronenberg