Crimes of the Future

Crimes of the Future ★★★★½

"I never came up with the term 'body horror.' I've always seen these movies more as 'the body beautiful.' And for me, technology has always been 'ultra-human,' a complete extension of who and what we are." - David Cronenberg, 2022

I don't think I've thought about any film more than this one in recent years since I first saw it. Cronenberg, obviously in art film mode - more A Dangerous Method than say, The Fly or A History of Violence, or even Crash, I suppose. Closest probably to Videodrome in it's emphasis on what one could possibly call "the new flesh" but even then this is its own thing. Similarly to that one it's basically Cronenberg making a science fiction art film, even more stripped from its traditional genre trappings than that one. And like that film - and hopefully it won't take as long for this one to get its due as it did previous - this is one of the most visionary works of science fiction in the history of cinema, and among the most important because it deemphasizes technology for exploring changes in human habit, psychology, and physiology. Perhaps because of this, the film is hardly satisfying on the level of traditional narrative - instead each sequence serves to expand the new world of these characters, practically to the point where each successive sequence primarily serves to show us more of the customs and lifestyles, ideas, and dichotomies of this possible future. It's what people in film schools tell you is called "world-building" but not in the way they necessarily describe: instead of special effects to show us technological advancements in machinery (although there is more CGI here than in any of Cronenberg's earlier films - thankfully used tastefully and sparingly), everything - theoretically, conceptually - is expressed through the communication between people, including entire new modes of expression and conceptions of art.

Because this movie vocalizes most of its ideas, there's only so much use in writing about them here - though this shouldn't be taken completely as literal representation alone, given the works vaguely ominous title. If there's anything dystopian about Crimes of the Future, it revolves around the cultural hegemonic forces which remain from the past and seek to prevent what even a government agent has to admit is "human evolution." These things are aimed to be prevented through both an institutional level and on the level of average everyday perception - as seen, obviously, in the films dark opening where a mother brutally murders her plastic eating son. Why? Because he's "different." On the other hand, these questions of "difference", perception and hegemonic influence both on average perception and expressed via perception are nothing new for Cronenberg, the latter being what most directly links the work to his masterpiece Videodrome, even more so than their shared ideas regarding the evolution of human physiology. And, despite the high-thinking open mindedness of the movie, these elements are far scarier here - whatever horror elements remain are from this thematic quandary, not its "gruesome" body exploration elements, which instead seem ice cold, and with a great curiosity and fascination to them, rather than shock. Instead, Cronenberg's deep fear here - as it should be to all of us - is of reactionaryism: that those who are deemed different are then deemed subhuman, if not human at all. The title is in reference to this alone: is difference or the new the crime of the future? Is it already the crime of the now? After all, don't all major cultural hegemonic forces aim to preserve the world as it is, by any means necessary, equality or not?

In a way it's almost a relief that these questions don't overtake the movie but seem more a part of its world - one element of many. In a way it makes the title almost misleading for the movie if not for its beautiful final moments. The world, its connections and relationships in them, its underground, its mainstream, even its avant-garde scene always remains the focus. Beauty here is rarely ever aesthetic - its always through the connections between people, the strange ideas which they share with each other, the new discoveries which blossom because of these connections. If anything, its a vision where an "old world" is still there, but only barely, simultaneously expressing both old and new in its dilapidated industrial structures. And in which these cheap, techno-wastelands aren't necessarily futurism, but rather the future of modernity - these things didn't remind me of any Cronenberg's past work, or any sci-fi work for that matter. Instead, it reminded me of Antonioni's Red Desert, which this film arguably has more in common with than most of Cronenberg's films, at least on an explicit level. More importantly, it never plays as dystopian sci-fi: instead this world seems genuinely progressive and thrilling, unsurprisingly for Cronenberg even in terms of sexuality. It's an incredibly imaginative work and an important one because rarely do we ever get to see imagination sans romanticism in movies. The developments in Cronenberg's future can even be rather charming, such as its mutually beneficial community of artists and dilettantes.

Yet the biggest surprise is there's still time left not for romanticism or passion but rather tenderness. And not the love-hungry kind that's so often appealing in movies but rather a quiet, caring, "everyday" healthy adult kind - Mortensen and Seydoux's relationship here is a far cry from the hellish romances of The Fly or M. Butterfly and it actually does a lot of the films heavy lifting given its overall lack of narrative propulsion, aside from how overall refreshing this element is given we rarely see this in movies at all. And despite the films almost overload of ideas, it's this element which tends to be most enjoyable on successive revisits, even when I go back to it looking for something else.

It's tough to write so soon - just under a year - about something thats not just obviously a masterpiece but also something that goes beyond "new" into feeling like it actually came from the future. Cronenberg more modernist than ever - and thankfully the kind of late work that doesn't feel like an epilogue in the slightest but instead promises something brand new while continuing points of inquiry which have stretched back decades - few have done this, and when it happens it's usually only the latter. In the end, we get possibly the most sublime closing image of the entire 21st Century thus far - Mortensen's Saul, trying the plastic bar for the first time, so ecstatic that tears well up in his eyes as filmed on black and white digital video: as Lang Dotrice says earlier in the film, "Time for human evolution to synch up with human technology."

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