Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Crimes of the Future

Writer-director David Cronenberg's latest, Crimes of the Future, begins with a child hunkering down beneath a bathroom sink to tuck into the pink plastic bin that usually occupies that space. As he feasts, a thick white drool dangles from his mouth. Later we learn that this frothy sputum is caustic, an evolutionary advantage that will allow a new sub-species of humankind to consume and digest the synthetic trash that is crammed into every corner of our world. In the moment though, Sozos Sotiris' Brecken registers as a perfectly concealed Brundlefly - the mutant off-shot able to summon up corrosive digestive enzymes at will. This feeling of summation is threaded throughout Crimes: the mind-warping agenda of extreme, sensationalist, art from Videodrome rubs up against the pearlescent bio-mechanoids of eXistenZ; Shivers' mix of sex and surgery runs concurrent to failing attempts, by boring bureaucrats, to catalogue violent metamorphosis. The latter straight out of Scanners

Set in and around an art world dedicated to euphoric body modification, Viggo Mortensen's Saul Tenser and Léa Seydoux's Caprice are a double-act of critically appreciated performance artists. Saul is the canvas, Caprice the brush. Although we are told that pain and infection have largely been eliminated in this oddly Mediterranean present, Saul writhes in agony throughout the film. Unlike his partner, who can hold steaming skillets and must voluntarily alter her appearance, Saul's body is constantly undergoing twisting transformation. His insides give birth to new, unknown organs that are assumed to be vestigial and potentially tumourous. Cocooned in a operating bed that looks like a cross between the sarcophagus of a deep-sea monarch and a caterpillar's chrysalis, Saul submits himself to Caprice's surgical tinkering for the amusement of the champagne and canapés set. Even Saul's attempts to feed himself primary-coloured mush requires a soothing, swishing, skeletal apparatus - one designed to simulate the movements that a body locked in choking dysphagia has otherwise grown unaccustomed to. 

Beneath this new flesh garnish though, Crimes revolves around the sickly tension present in interpersonal incidents with clear hierarchical tiers - pitching and networking as an uncommon horror that demands artists pluck out their trembling insides then place them under someone else's microscope. In this sense Crimes treads similar ground to Cronenberg's earlier film Maps to the Stars. Whereas in that film the status that comes with fame allowed for a childish and chronic misbehaviour, Crimes examines these interactions from a perspective coloured by advancing age. Saul is elderly and established, unconsciously cooking up new projects in a mad rush to produce before his collapsing body begins its path to conclusion. In Crimes then the revulsion is generated not just by largely bloodless scenes of autopsy but by an overly appreciative audience, desperate to win any kind of favour with Saul. A scene with Kristen Stewart's Timlin, a junior staff member with the National Organ Registry, sees the young woman attempting to seduce Saul but, in practice, her overly enthusiastic regard is shown to be suffocating. Saul cannot help physically retreating from her fawning broadcasts, covering his mouth and face with his hands before, finally, conclusively ruining the mood by declaring that he is sexually inadequate.  

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