Surgery is the new sex: the raw emotions of ‘crimes of the future’

When you think of David Cronenberg, something gross probably comes to mind. Maybe it’s the head exploding from scanners; the deformed, vomiting face of a man-insect hybrid in The flight; or the gun in existence made of human flesh and teeth bullets. Cronenberg’s films are most often labeled body horror, but the term isn’t all-encompassing. His work is often disgusting, but rarely frightening, at least not since the early days of Goosebumps and The litter. Cronenberg loves the human body. He’s just not sentimental about it.

For over 50 years, Cronenberg has been probing humans as an alien experimenting on an abductee. His is a scientific endeavor, aiming to discover everything you can do with human flesh. Sometimes it opens. Other times he looks like a teenager drooling over Debbie Harry’s breasts (videodrome), Maria Bello dressed as a cheerleader (A history of violence), or even Viggo Mortensen’s balls (oriental promises). Cronenberg is deeply attuned to how the human form can spark public interest, disgust and excitement – ​​sometimes all at once. Inside existence, the encoder played by Jennifer Jason Leigh creates a VR system that connects directly to a flesh portal on the human back. Cronenberg could have emphasized the horror at that moment, but instead he saw the handjob as an opportunity to jerk off and had Jude Law perform oral sex on Leigh’s lower back just for the sheer, confused thrill of it.

crimes of the future continues the director’s obsession with pleasure, pain, and artistic theory. The film takes place in an alternate world where the human body is suddenly evolving into varied and unstable forms. There are people like Saul (Viggo Mortensen) who quickly develop new internal organs that must be removed in order to survive. He and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) turn their deformities into art, removing their organs in a ceremony that combines necessary surgery with elaborate performance art. Onlookers drink wine and take pictures in the middle of the dissection. Pain is no longer a factor – we are told in an aside that it has also been removed from the human experience – and so surgery produces only orgasmic euphoria. “Surgery is the new sex”, a character tells us clearly, as if it’s not very clear.

the real matter of crimes of the future it is a more collective pain, the crushing agony of old systems giving way to new ones. Working from his own script, Cronenberg sets the action in Greece (although all the characters speak English), where the plot unfolds almost entirely on the steps of crumbling ruins or inside dank catacombs. Visually, Cronenberg and cinematographer Douglas Koch, a first-time collaborator with Cronenberg, lean towards the chiaroscuro of classical art, creating the most pictorial compositions of Cronenberg’s filmography. It is a natural fit for your world of hidden sensations; audience members in the offices hide in dark corners, and Saul stalks the cobblestone streets in a black cloak, either to protect his wounds or to hide from his adoring fans. Everything is shrouded in darkness, except for the offices of the National Organ Registry, where government officials Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart) are responsible for tattooing tattoos on new organs so the police can track them down, before they get lost. they are attracted. by the fascination of Saul and Caprice. In some ways, his office – drab and empty, with unpainted walls and gray light streaming through the windows – feels like a world apart from the gothic horror outside. But in another sense, it’s just more evidence of a crumbling state. In darkness or light, Cronenberg paints a picture of a world heaving in its dying breaths.

Of course, Cronenberg favors death. His thematic obsessions have become even more transgressive over time, and the lines he crosses are increasingly in need of demolition. The hegemony of superhero cinema has ushered in a new era of asexuality: not only do today’s movie icons lack carnal desires, but even their bodies seem invulnerable and separate from their reality. There are muscular mountains like Jason Momoa and Chris Hemsworth; Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Brie Larson are covered from head to toe in latex and vests; and Marvel’s idea of ​​a sex scene involves two very good friends gently pushing each other on a beach for a few seconds. It would be wrong to suggest that Cronenberg’s film is a response to this new puritanism – he’s been hammering this particular nail for over 50 years – but highlighting the vulnerability of the human body certainly feels more radical now than at any point in its long life. . career.

While hedonists and gluttons argue on Twitter about the sheer volume of sex in movies, Cronenberg has found a way to have a more interesting conversation about human sensuality. Inside crimes, he casts three of film’s most desirable stars – Seydoux, Stewart and Mortensen – and neither ignores nor indulges in their sex appeal. Instead, he reverses it. Mortensen spends the entire film in deep states of physical decrepitude. Surgeries should be the sexy part (your mileage may vary on this); less lewd are the countless scenes of him vomiting, spitting and coughing during a simple meal as his body rebels against its most basic functions. Meanwhile, Seydoux and Stewart seem designed for Cronenberg; both were critical of Hollywood’s demands on women, and both were comfortable exposing their bodies on camera because of their artistry. However, Seydoux is just undressed in crimes to a gruesome scene in which her body is methodically torn apart with a repurposed autopsy machine. Then there’s Stewart, the art house naive, creatively employed here as a kind of book-reader buttoned up with the nervous energy of an ’80s Woody Allen heroine. Saul refers to her as “attractive to a bureaucrat”, and that’s right. Cronenberg provokes a sexual awakening for her – she runs off to attend the surgeries and cravings after Mortensen – but denies the satisfaction of completing that arc.

The reward, however, is in the journey. One of the benefits of Cronenberg’s decades-long obsession with depicting pleasure and pain is that he’s gotten pretty good at it. Inside crimes of the future, he’s in director-as-mad scientist mode, pushing our buttons behind the curtain so he can relish our answers. He’ll arouse your sensuality one minute and trigger a gag reflex the next. For those unaccustomed to his methods, it might seem sadistic (or at the very least disturbing), but once you get into his wavelength, it’s a joke not far from the commercial cinema that Cronenberg claims to reject. Blockbuster films excel at manipulating the audience’s emotions to sentimental extremes. Cronenberg does the same – he just points at different points on the body.

Other subplots in crimes move away from even the possibility of excitement. Early on, a mother kills her child, what looks like a non sequitor – another one of Cronenberg’s little delights – until later it connects to other underground community of people who have evolved to consume synthetics. Led by the desperate but charming Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), they turn plastic into something resembling a nutrition bar that sustains them but horribly kills anyone who inadvertently eats one; a suspicious stranger learns this the hard way, and so do we. Certain gross elements in crimes of the future it will certainly be too much for some viewers, but as is always the case with Cronenberg, transgression is an end in itself. If you’re going to cross one line, you can also cross all of them.

Most of these lines, however, have been crossed before. Despite the enthusiasm with which Cronenberg exposes our guts, there is something superficial about this latest effort. It is perfectly reasonable for a filmmaker to continue to explore the same themes – authors might argue that this is exactly what a filmmaker does. he must do – but this feels like a greatest hits album. Cronenberg blurred the line between art and surgery more elegantly in dead touches; there is a misguided subplot about an undercover cop reminiscent of the superior crime thriller oriental promises; the connection that crosses the line between sex and technology is so reminiscent of existence and beat. Cronenberg wrote crimes of the future more than 20 years ago, closer to when most of these other movies were released. The themes aren’t too redundant, and there are enough new ideas to justify the film’s existence, but if you’re familiar with his filmography, it’s hard to shake the feeling that those ideas haven’t been more coherently expressed elsewhere.

The more you try to understand your themes, however, the faster they slip out of your hand. Already, critics and fans have offered their share of theories about the One True Meaning of crimes of the future. Some see it as an ecological fable about the damage humans have inflicted on the environment. Others see a meditation on Cronenberg’s identity as an aging artist, an interpretation reinforced by Mortensen’s perhaps ironic comment that the film is “autobiographical” for Cronenberg. This is clearly troll work, but crimes of the future it can actually be your most personal work. As the characters grapple with a choice between continuing to explore the human body in their performance art or accepting a synthetic future, it’s reasonable to see the film as a summary of Cronenberg’s experiences balancing art and commerce. Cronenberg is 79 years old and this is his first film in eight years. In interviews, he’s been ambivalent at best about making another movie – though he’s recently put his kidney stones up for auction as an NFT. But crimes of the future reinforces our need for an artist of his fascinations. With the Hollywood machine spitting out so many iron men and plastic women, someone has to keep probing the soft underbelly of the human soul.

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