Although one would expect that David Cronenberg Future Crimes to deliver several cringe-inducing scenes given the festival press swirling around it, the film is actually rather understated in terms of adhering to the “body horror” genre typically associated with the filmmaker’s other works. That being said, while it may not be the best example of Cronenberg’s philosophy, it’s easily one of the most thought-provoking and interesting films of his career.
In the author’s final exploration of the body politic, Cronenberg assumes that human evolution has adapted to encompass life in a synthetic environment. This allowed some human bodies to transform and mutate (though not necessarily for identifiable or specific evolutionary purposes). Exploiting this new genetic quirk, performer Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) presents the metamorphosis of his body in a series of “avant-garde” performances with his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux). However, when investigators from the National Organ Registry (one named Timlin is played by Kristen Stewart) get involved in his latest exhibit, it seems the next stage of human evolution is at hand.
Arrived eight years after his last film, Maps to the stars (2014), Future Crimes signals a return to its roots in a way. But not in the sense that the film is at all associated with its 1970 short of the same name, but rather in the sense that the film is concerned with the relationship of human evolution to whether biology or sociology are upper routes. In some ways, the film is Cronenberg at his best, and in others, it’s all that those who dislike most of his work will also find distasteful. That being said, the film is a welcome return to cinema for one of the most original and thought-provoking filmmakers of the past half-century.
Viggo Mortensen delivers a taut and ethereal performance as performance artist Saul Tenser, who perhaps also works for the very system his art seems obnoxiously opposed to. Similarly, Léa Seydoux’s Caprice is both partner and victim as she aids Tenser in her performances and undergoes her own body modifications. However, Kristen Stewart’s Timlin acts as a somewhat confused, yet delighted, surrogate for audiences as the film progresses.
Douglas Koch’s cinematography gives the film the otherworldly, yet somehow familiar look that is present in Carol Spier’s production design. An engaging and haunting soundtrack courtesy of Howard Shore only heightens the overall mood and tone of the film.
Although Cronenberg may be revisiting some of his earlier obsessions, in part with Future Crimes, it also offers a new way of looking at the politics of the human body and the emotional source of evolution itself. Although he does not reach the heights of his best work, Future Crimes is a film worth exploring and engaging with.