The question which strikes you every time you watch a body horror movie is, “What are the limitations of the moniker of body horror?” Is it only restricted to simple gore and bloodshed as mutilations are inflicted on the body? At what point does body horror evolve from gore to something far more sensual and potent? The near future of David Cronenberg’s “Crimes Of The Future” is a terrifying dystopia.
The world is affected by pollution and climate change with disastrous results, causing unforeseen changes to the human body. To counter that, significant biotechnological advances have been made, including the invention of machines that interface with the human body and control bodily functions. However, unlike most sci-fi dealing with post-humanism (for example, the Deus-Ex games), the visual aesthetic of said interfaces is less machine-like and more human-like. Even the pieces of machinery are covered with viscera and slime; the electronics used to conduct surgery are shaped more like bones than electronic appendages. But perhaps due to the cause of such environmental changes, the human body itself has evolved such that the threshold of pain and the presence of infectious diseases has decreased. Thus, in typical Cronenbergian fashion, the pain has replaced pleasure, and as a character calls it, “Surgery is the new sex.”
However, evolution has resulted in mutations as well. For an eight-year-old child named Brecken, that translates to an ability to eat plastic, which causes him to be murdered by his mother because of the exhibition of such inhuman characteristics. For Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), this has caused his body to develop new vestigial organs. While this causes Tenser excruciating pain and has rendered him dependent on machinery linked to his endocrine system to maintain optimum stability, Tenser uses this ability to elevate himself as a famous performance artist, with his assistant Caprice performing surgery on him in front of a live audience and extracting the new vestigial organ. In a world as potently unique as this one, the physical body is a form of identity. Marking and tattooing of organs is a deliberate method of ownership and also registration of different organs.
The world and environment in the movie are interesting, and Cronenberg ensures you remember them. That comprises letting the environment speak for it, but for the majority of its runtime, “Crimes Of The Future” (2022) is a victim of clunky exposition delivered through clumsily simplistic written dialogues which sound more forced than natural. The use of a minimum score in the movie adds to the very unsettling flair of the storytelling. That feeling of unsettlement is compounded by the eagerness of characters to undergo surgery, where Cronenberg satirizes the use of plastic surgery to increase the number of scars and mutilations and exhibits them as a badge of honor and performance art. To some extent, that is a political statement; the ownership of one’s body just extends to the interior organs, if we take the concept of tattooing to its literal extreme.
The issue with “Crimes Of The Future” is its introduction of different curveballs, which take time to develop, but the resultant payoff feels surprisingly low. It is very much a result of the movie being dramatically inert. The emotional utterances and moments of tearful poignancy feel blatantly artificial or over the top compared to the cold, haunting, pause-filled conversations between the characters. The gore scenes are scored to classical music, and the editing and staging of these sequences of surgery and gore feel cool, almost mechanical in their approach, even though seeing images like a zipper connecting two halves of the stomach and Lea Seydoux’s character Caprice opening said zipper and delivering oral should be a cause for grimace or puking. Instead, it brought about a minor sense of curiosity.
Because that is what “Crimes Of The Future” is. An exercise in the development of ideas about human evolution and the evolution of the environment, remotely different from most visually spectacled sci-fi. The different political factions of performance artists, the commercial sniveling bureaucracy of The National Organ Registry, and the mutated plastic-eating members of society are thickly veiled satires of the difference between art and commerce and how Tenser, through his performance art, is trying to straddle that line. Maybe, in the end, even he succumbs to the temptation of art. This exercise in ideas is suitably carried by Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux, who are acting at the perfect wavelength which Cronenberg desires. Kristen Stewart, however, plays the manic version of Princess Diana in “Spencer,” and it is extremely distracting, while Scott Speedman shows sparks of passion and insanity not unfamiliar with the world Cronenberg has crafted. It is a fascinating movie, which will satisfy the Cronenberg diehards. I only wish it had more visceral energy and the sticky bloody warmth you would expect from a film where surgery is the new form of pleasure.