At The Movies: Cronenberg film displays human body as a canvas for biological art

Crimes Of The Future stars Viggo Mortensen. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Crimes Of The Future (M18)

108 minutes, opens on Thursday
4 stars

The story: It is the future and a boy in a bathroom sits down casually and begins eating a plastic trash bin as if it were a biscuit. His mother looks on in despair. Her story, and her child’s, is tied to that of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artist with a crowd-pleasing trick: He has developed the ability to grow new organs. His partner is Caprice (Lea Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon. They meet Timlin (Kristen Stewart), a bureaucrat whose job is at the National Organ Registry, an agency that records the new body parts that certain humans are able to generate at random. The film was nominated for a Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Canadian writer-director David Cronenberg has long had a fascination with the human body. It is gross and magical and he loves all of it.

His newest film, coming after his other horror-tinged explorations into the nature of flesh (Videodrome, 1983; The Fly, 1986; eXistenZ, 1999) is, in a literal way, his most direct look at what it means to be an owner-operator of a set of bizarre, mysterious throbbing bits and pieces.

In Marvel’s X-Men movies, mutations erupt everywhere, causing humans to sprout wings or a shape-changing structure, leading to a race of superhumans. This movie takes roughly the same idea – in the future, bodies will respond to a changed planet in strange ways – but instead of making the story a cool adventure, Cronenberg pushes it in the direction of horror.

There is some physical horror here, mainly in how the phrase “surgery is the new sex”, said by one character, is depicted.

On that point, the use of practical effects is outstanding. Tenser and others are opened up like birthday pinatas and Cronenberg does not let the camera cut away when the knives and hands penetrate. The dissections, while disturbing to watch, are largely bloodless, all the better to observe the organs, quivering and translucent like jellyfish in an aquarium.

If the exposed structures look beautiful, that seems to be the film-maker’s point. These, by the way, look more like kidneys and spleens than they do genitalia. In this world, sex, along with other biological acts like eating, is disgusting and viewers have to deal with that in their own way.

Exactly what the new organs are for is never made clear – this is not that kind of science fiction.

For Cronenberg, the structure of the human psyche is more interesting than the structures under the skin and he is, as usual, correct.

His power as a film-maker lies in making the surreal feel coherent and logical, even sexy. The thing that triggers the cringe reflex in you today will, by tomorrow, be someone else’s pornography.

Hot take: Nightmares can be beautiful, even sexy, in this creepy, absorbing look into a next-level future.

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