‘Crimes Of The Future’ Ending, Explained: What Happens At The Live Autopsy Performance? Is Saul Dead Or Alive?

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“Crimes Of The Future” is David Cronenberg’s comeback to the science-fiction body horror genre with many intriguing offerings. Essentially telling the tale of a sickly and frail artist in a world in which human beings have forgotten what physical pain is, the film does present interesting ideas, but can also seem too convoluted to viewers who are not passionately attentive. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, and Kristen Stewart in the lead roles, “Crimes Of The Future” is mostly good but nothing exceptionally remarkable.

Spoilers And Mature-Content Warning


‘Crimes Of The Future’ Plot Summary:

A young boy of seven or eight is seen digging up waste on a sea beach and is sternly ordered by his mother to not eat any of it. The boy then enters a dingy bathroom in his house and starts to eat up a plastic bucket, much to the anger and frustration of the mother. That night, when the young child is asleep, the mother kills him by smothering a pillow on his face. She then calls up and informs her ex-husband, the father of the boy, to come and pick up the corpse of their son if he intends to, the son she keeps calling a “creature.”

Saul Tenser and Caprice are a performance artist couple with much renown and acclaim for their disturbing but unique body-mutilation acts. In the world of the future, where some human beings have naturally growing extra and seemingly purposeless organs inside their bodies, Saul suffers from a disorder called “accelerated evolution syndrome” that makes his body repeatedly grow such organs. With humans of the time mostly unaware of physical pain, as human bodies no longer feel it, making surgeries a very commonplace thing, Caprice performs surgeries to remove Saul’s extra organs in front of a live audience as a performance of their art. The two go to the National Organ Registry office one day, which is a newly formed, yet-to-be-launched government agency that keeps official track of all these developing human organs. As part of keeping account, Saul’s organs are tattooed on with sharp incisions into his body. Due to his physical ailments, the man also has terrible digestive and respiratory problems and requires the help of special modern beds and a breakfast chair that is supposed to automatically predict his pains and assist him accordingly. When these machines do not function as they are supposed to, Saul calls upon two technicians from LifeFormWare, the corporation that manufactures them. The two technicians, Berst and Router, help the couple and then are immediately fascinated by a specific LifeFormWare bed (first invented for performing autopsies) that is no longer made, the Sark unit, which the couple still uses for their shows. The two National Organ Registry officials who worked with the couple, named Wippet and Timlin, also grew increasingly interested in their art and even visited their performance despite their governmental superiors telling them not to be associated with such things.

One day, while secretly watching the show of a rival performance artist, Saul Tenser is approached by a woman who asks him to visit a certain Dr. Nasatir, and the man interestedly follows the request. While on his way to the place, he is approached by a strange man on the streets, who asks Saul and Caprice to perform a live autopsy of a dead body, that of the man’s own young son, who had very rare digestive organs.


See More: ‘Crimes Of The Future’ Review: David Cronenberg’s Experiment In World-Building And Idea Generation


Why Does Lang Want A Live Autopsy Performed On His Dead Son?

The act of self and any other form of body mutilation still seems to be illegal in the world of the future, as Saul Tenser is approached by a government detective, named Cope, to unofficially work for them. Saul’s agreeing to do it seems strange to the official, and when he asks the man about why exactly he performs such acts, Saul explains that his art is basically an expression of rage and anger against his body, which keeps causing him unbearable pain. Saul then visits Dr. Nasatir and learns that the man is involved with an Inner Beauty Pageant and wants the artist to participate in it, mostly to make the pageant more popular and known among people. Nasatir then cuts a disfigurement in Saul’s body, in which his inner organs can be accessed through a zipper-like opening on his stomach. Saul had also enquired about the mother who had killed her son from Cope and now visits her, Djuna, at a prison. Djuna keeps calling her son, Brecken, a monster and a creature that her ex-husband had invented only to torment her. Brecken would only eat plastic and synthetic things as food, and this made the mother kill him without any guilt or remorse. She also makes it clear that her son’s body is still with her ex-husband, his father, Lang, and that she simply does not care what he does with it. It is very evident that it is the same Lang who has now been asking Saul to perform live on his son’s dead body. Looking for more information about this strange plastic-eating anomaly, Saul visits the National Organ Registry once again and asks Timlin about it, who had been increasingly growing more attracted towards the older artist. In a world where the feeling of pain itself is so elusive, extreme surgeries and body-mutilations seem to have become the acts of utmost pleasure, even to the point of being sexual. This is why people flock to watch the performing arts related to such matters with eager interest, and as Timlin puts it, in this world of the future, “surgery is the new sex.” Timlin and Saul do share a passionate kiss, but the man also quickly admits that he is not very good at “old sex,” clearly marking the divide between methods of old human pleasures and new.

Saul eventually convinces Caprice to accompany him to Lang’s apartment to hear more about the live autopsy that they are about to perform. Everything now becomes clearer as it is established that Lang is the leader of an evolutionist group who have all chosen to undergo a specific complicated surgery that enables their digestive organs to digest plastic and synthetic materials as food. The reason the group does so is because it firmly believes that it is time for humans to eat up their own waste, the waste that is being produced and dumped into seas and oceans for over centuries. Lang and all his followers now eat only a purple chocolate bar-like thing made of synthetic and plastic waste, eating which immediately kills any normal human being. Lang’s son, Brecken, was the first human to have been naturally born with such a digestive system and did not need any surgery to attain it. Now that his ex-wife has murdered their son, Lang wants Brecken’s body to be publicly autopsied to find whatever extraordinary organs are inside and also establish their agenda to the public through this display. This agenda is also political, though, as Lang and his group are extremely anti-government and knowing of Saul’s interactions with the rebel leader, Cope also asks the artist to remain undercover and carry out the performance to help the government track members of the group. Dr. Nasatir, who was involved with the Inner Beauty Pageant, also now seems to have been involved with this anti-government group, and he is visited by the two LifeFormWare technicians, Berst and Router. The two women, though, instead of carrying out their usual order of business, kill the doctor as if they had been hired to do so by someone.


‘Crimes Of The Future’ Ending Explained: What Happens At The Live Autopsy Performance?

Crowds gather at a basement where the performance is about to take place, and all characters emerge on the scene, including Wippet, Timlin, Berst, and Router. As Caprice performs the autopsy with Saul’s help, Lang looks on with eager excitement to find out what organs will come out of his dead son’s body. However, when Brecken’s body is ultimately cut, and his insides are surgically pulled out, it is revealed that the young boy’s organs are all tattooed over in the same manner in which the government’s National Organ Registry operates. Not only does this mean that the government actually had all the information about this new organic development in humans, but the probability of Brecken’s organs having been surgically replaced is also established. Lang cannot take the show any longer, as the man breaks down, thinking that what he was looking forward to in his life was all under government surveillance, and he sits alone weeping and blaming Djuna for all of it. Right at this moment, Berst and Router come to him and kill the rebel leader with drill machines pierced into his neck. Sometime after the performance, Cope meets with Saul and explains that they had indeed been looking into the young boy’s case when he was alive. The boy did have naturally growing organs that allowed him to digest plastic, but the government could not afford to let this news out to the public as the rebels would be proved right, and that would immediately mean the fall of the government. Instead, they did gather all the information on Brecken’s organs and had them replaced by Timlin of the Registry. At this point, Cope slips past any discussion about the murder of Dr. Nasatir, saying that it was possibly his own wife who killed the man, but Saul is not convinced at all. Seeming to have had enough of the government’s lies, the artist quotes the ideals of Lang’s group and then walks away from the detective, suggesting that he no longer wants to work with any authoritative agency.

In the end, Saul struggles more with his physical ailments as his body seems to fight back more against him. Finally, unable to find a solution to his problem anywhere else, he asks Caprice to feed him one of the purple plastic bars. The woman does so, as she records the entire event, and as Saul takes a bite of it, his face seems to resonate with a short smile, as if his body had finally found what it had been looking for, and then his eyes start to grow wide. “Crimes Of The Future” chooses to draw an end here, without giving any conclusive result regarding whether Saul survives after eating the bar or not. Although the expression on his face initially does suggest that his body does accept the waste as food, the eyes at the end suggest that he might indeed be dying. With regards to Berst and Router’s murders, nothing conclusive is presented either, and what seems most likely is that the private corporation, LifeFormWare, was working together with the government to ensure any group with opposing ideas was eliminated. The murders of both Dr. Nasatir and Lang ensure this, without bringing any of it directly on the government. “Crimes Of The Future” does seem to present narratives pertaining to modern lifestyles and choices as opposed to government ideals, but ultimately it falls short of any remarkable brilliance.


What Does The Film Signify?

From the very inception of the film’s idea, Cronenberg set his emphasis to be on performance art and body mutilation in a world where pain is a pleasure. By the time “Crimes of the Future” has been released, the setting has shifted to the future, but the core ideas remain intact. The act of disfigurement, or in some way, even desecration, of human bodies, serves as the main drive of the characters and the plot. With a civilization that has advanced enough to create machines supposed to predict movements and anomalies of the human nervous system correctly, Cronenberg seems to have set the very basis of all problems in human bodies. The sense is that we as a society have advanced so much technologically that we have almost forgotten, and therefore reminisce, all that was natural a few decades (or centuries) back. The LifeFormWare instruments, which are evidence of sheer improbable scientific advancement, are still made to look very organic, with resemblances to human bodies. This particular idea of reminiscing (and therefore recreating) what is natural is not anything new or unique to the genre of science-fiction, but “Crimes of the Future” takes it a step further with the evolution of human bodies. Humans in this world do not feel any physical pain, and infections as a cause or result of any disease, is also very obsolete. With pain almost wiped out from natural human experience, it has become the new commodity in demand because, after all, to buy whatever you do not have or get is something that is very established in our present world itself. Saul and Caprice play their parts in offering this commodity, although it would be harsh to think of them as mere sellers, but more on that later.

What is consistent with all the three performance artists that we see on screen is that all such performances have someone essentially inflicting pain on someone else. Although consent and ideas stem from the one on whom mutilation is being performed, it is never a solo affair. In the second performance artist’s work seen, during which Saul is approached by the stranger woman, a person acts upon the artist (presumably), sewing his lips shut and attaching ears all over his face and body. In the third act, we see the woman who Caprice seems to befriend, performing the deep lashes on the artist’s face. The idea of agency, be it direct or indirect, is very much present, as the performances always involve more than one person, even if the artist is a singular figure. If surgery is to be considered the new sex, then such a presentation perhaps keeps intact the complexities of human pleasure. The reception of pleasure is equally as important and in demand as the giving of it. This further becomes more evident in the case of Saul and Caprice, whose entire reason to be together is their performance, but also, as it is soon revealed, the exchange of pleasure through cuts and lashes in the surgery. Saul and Caprice even interchange roles, as first, Caprice is seen in charge of operating on Saul. But later, in their private chamber, it is Caprice who gives herself in to the pleasure of lying on the Sark autopsy bed, being cut into by Saul’s control of the mechanics, before he too joins in with her. When Timlin confesses her attraction toward Saul, she clearly mentions that she wants to be operated on by the artist. It is very obvious that in Cronenberg’s dystopian future, humans have done away with the subtleties of love-making as we know it, and instead, the cutting deep into one’s skin has replaced such expressions. Both Caprice’s sucking on Saul’s inner organs pulled out of a zipper-like cut on his belly (even perhaps with a tinge of jealousy, as the man has now let someone other than his partner operate on him), and the general reception of those watching the performance show makes this quite evident. At moments of heightened pleasure during performance acts, especially ones in which someone’s skin and flesh are being cut into, some among the viewers cut into each other, in a manner very symbolic of human pleasure.

In this world of twisted, mutilated, and mutated bodies, “Crimes of the Future” tells the story of an individual artist, with layers of self-realizations and discoveries. Saul clearly mentions the reason behind his performances and what he wants to say or achieve through it—the man copes with the pains inside his body and, in a sense, revolts against it by making a public show of his body being torn down and ripped apart. Ripped apart is indeed the sense that the camera establishes in scenes where Saul’s organs are operated on. If the plot is looked at from the perspective of an artist’s journey in life (and the director’s perspective might also be the same), then Saul Tenser begins as a rebel, is brought under government influence, and then ultimately realizes that he has only been used by the machinery. Saul or Caprice do not care much about the fact that performance arts of their kind are not encouraged, if not completely banned, by government authorities. Although as an artist, the man is never institutionalized, the government, through detective Cope, does approach the artist and ask him to help them reach the radical evolutionist group. It might be wrong to assume that Saul did not at all think that the authorities would have some evil intention in their search, but what perhaps makes more sense is that Saul’s artistic curiosity takes him over. He cannot help but explore the dead body of the young boy, apparently possessing unheard-of natural digestive abilities. Perhaps as one struggling with and suffering from tremendous digestive problems (ones that even LifeFormWare’s technology cannot solve), he even searches for a remedy in the case. Finally, though, when he learns that Cope and the powers that be had always known about Brecken’s situation, Saul realizes that he had only been a pawn to reach and eliminate Lang, the embodiment of any opposition to authority.

Metaphorically speaking, it can be looked at as the tale of an artist being used away by an authoritarian force for the benefit of their own agenda by hoodwinking the individual or group. This perhaps resonates in our present-world reality-driven conscience as much as bodies seeking pleasure watching pain inflicted on other bodies. In the end, Saul decides to end it all, to burn it all down, by establishing himself as the next embodiment of the opposition. He does not care if such a step will leave him alive, whether his corporal shell can digest (literally) such a starkly different composition, and he bites into the plastic-waste-bar. Saul Tenser perhaps perishes and dies, much like many artists and individuals who took the step of raging out against more outwardly pains and struggles, those of society and the world around, but it is hard to miss the momentary satisfaction of embracing such a perspective. “Crimes of the Future” does not look very obvious in passing judgments on such an artist or his actions, but it is hard to miss all the sinuous power struggles and self-conflicts going on underneath its bodily plot.


“Crimes Of The Future” is a 2022 Drama Science Fiction film directed by David Cronenberg.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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