Though I’ve only seen a few of David Cronenberg’s works, “passion” or “passionate” comes to mind when describing his stories, characters, and locales. There is an inherent beauty in the horrors he shares with his audience. It is very nearly je ne sais quoi, a quality that cannot be described or named easily. Yet, the themes he presents in his latest film, Crimes of the Future, are very easily explained.
That’s the true passion in Cronenberg’s films; complex themes, daring dialogue, and images permeate the screen, oozing a sensuality within its confines. Yet, Viggo Mortensen’s Saul Tenser and Caprice, played by Léa Seydoux recently of No Time to Die fame, are nearly prototypical Cronenberg characters.
Set in a desiccated future, ravaged by climate change, Saul and Caprice are a world-renowned performance artist couple. They are, however, not part of Cirque du Soleil on a residency in Las Vegas. They might as well be for all the passion they put into their performance art. Cronenberg points out that the body art displayed in sexually harvesting and micro-tattooing extra organs from their subjects is called Accelerated Evolution Syndrome.
Mortensen, who worked with Cronenberg on A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, gives a subdued, pained performance as someone who is not in complete control of his body. Passion and vigor flood his strained physical relationship with Seydoux’s Caprice. There is trust between the two, but that bond is only for them, despite other characters expressing an interest in their unique art.
The National Organ Registry notices their unique art. Since AES is not singularly afflicting Saul, their performances attract the attention of the boisterous Wippet (Don McKellar) and Kristen Stewart’s Timlin. Cronenberg uses both characters in the first half, focusing on their awe of Saul and Caprice. In the later half, he does very little with their characters, sinking them into the background where they become mere observers and less active in the overall art that the film achieves.
Crimes of the Future is not a movie for the timid, though it is interesting that Stewart timidly plays a part; she is unsure of her growing interest in Saul’s art, her arousal with Saul, versus her dedication to the job. In a way, though, Cronenberg’s subsequent dismissal of the characters in favor of evolution is perhaps the most crucial aspect of the film. The story is more than just the performance art, the grotesquely scintillating images on the screen.
“Life finds a way.” Far be it for me to bring Jurassic Park into a Cronenberg piece. Still, when he decided to use human evolution as a primer for Crimes of the Future, it stopped being about the characters and was instead about the events that affect their confluences. Scott Speedman’s Lang Dotrice is the bridge between events. Another organization not related to the National Organ Registry is realized, bookending Saul’s story; they become entwined through one final act. Evolution not only injects itself into the story but also into character motives and has a lasting effect on them.
Douglas Koch’s cinematography throughout the Greek locations is shrouded in darkness and secrecy, layering in the seductive tones, treading ever so lightly as the story unfolds, and Howard Shore’s score underpins the emotions our characters experience.
Passionate dedication to each of the characters’ causes will be familiar to Cronenberg’s fans; Crimes of the Future remains provocatively seductive, even cringe-worthy. There is relief over Saul’s resolution as well as Lang’s.
Crimes of the Future remains an incomplete film, adding to its complexity. It truly is je ne sais quai in its trappings and its characters. Its evolutionary performances are the film’s strength, notably Mortensen, Seydoux, Stewart, and Speedman. That those characters are evolving throughout is a Cronenberg staple, a positive mark in the film’s presentation. The story summarily moves them into the background in an obvious way, and that Cronenberg leans on his tropes is less favorable for the film. Still, the director’s passion for his screenplay shows.
Be warned that this is not a film for everyone’s tastes.
Crimes of the Future
Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Scott Speedman, Don McKellar, Welket Bungué
R, 117 minutes, Neon