Crimes of the Future: Uncanny Gallery, by David Bax
In the opening moments of David Cronenberg‘s Crimes of the Future, we see a capsized cruise ship abandoned and half-submerged in coastal waters. In the following scene, we see a small boy biting off chunks of a small plastic wastebasket, chewing and swallowing them until a foreign ooze starts to drip out of his mouth. The former image is a clear nod to the 2012 wreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy. The latter is the product of Cronenberg’s imagination. This is what makes the director’s work in general–but Crimes of the Future in particular–so engrossing. His visions are rooted in recognizable, empirical reality, all the more sickeningly alien because of how human and earthly they are.
This ethos extends to the aesthetic presentation of his films. He’s not a pure fantasist like Jean-Pierre Jeunet; his mise-en-scène may be otherworldly but his frames are classical, almost pragmatic. Crimes of the Future unfolds largely in medium shots in rooms and settings that are dark but where what light there is never fails to find the actors’ faces.
And what faces they are. Cronenberg’s cast features Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux as a duo of body-altering artists in a future where that sort of thing is highly celebrated, Scott Speedman as the man who lures them into his efforts to reveal a criminal government conspiracy and, to round out the noir picture, Kristen Stewart as the world’s jitteriest femme fatale.
Certain elements of Crimes of the Future feel like Cronenberg running through his own greatest hits–from the sinister-looking new medical devices of Dead Ringers to the wet and fleshy biotechnology of Existenz–or even referencing the work of others (the bed in which Mortensen’s Saul Tenser sleeps recalls the time machine from Je t’aime, je t’aime and his clothes could have been made by luxury techwear brand Acronym). But make no mistake, Cronenberg is in a clear-eyed, forward-looking mode.
Not to give too much of the plot away (though this won’t be much of a surprise) but Crimes of the Future takes place in a version of the world in which the human body is undergoing changes. There may very well be an evolutionary imperative for which these adaptations exist but, as in the world of the X-Men comics, powerful, institutional forces are set on halting the progress that they fear.
But Crimes of the Future isn’t really a political movie. Cronenberg only seems interested in politics here insofar as it is one of the things that must react to a major change in human society. In the movie’s world, art, sex and biology are all changing in regards to one another and they are not doing so harmoniously. As viewed by Cronenberg, evolution is not a beautiful, natural process. Evolution is chaos and pain. It might all be worth it but we can’t know that until we come out the other side.