When people talk about Crash these days, they generally mean the Paul Haggis 2004 race parable, widely acknowledged as one of the worst movies ever to win Best Picture. Which tends to overshadow David Cronenberg’s 1996 Crash, a superior film starring James Spader about people who get horny for car accidents. Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes Of The Future, set in a time when “surgery is the new sex” is a lot more like the horny-for-car-accidents Crash, a beautiful piece of counter-programming for basically all of current pop culture.
Crimes Of The Future, starring Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux, is a movie that feels like I should’ve been watching it from a peephole booth, periodically feeding it quarters to keep my dingy viewing device from turning off. It’s not “the movie we need right now” or one you should “see on the biggest screen possible” or any of those other boilerplate superlatives critics throw at movies to exhort people back into theaters nowadays. This is a weird little movie made by a weird little dude. It’s not Top Gun, and you’re not going to leave the theater cheering. Though you might leave the theater excitedly running your sweaty little palms together, which for some of us is even better. (I may enjoy slop from time to time myself, but I hate the sound of other piggies squealing for it).
Now, after a long sigh and a sense of vague resignation, let me attempt to explain what it’s about (I guess? Is that important?). Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux (Lea Ski-Doo, I call her, I’m hoping it catches on) play Saul Tinser and Caprice, respectively, a pair of performance artists who do surgery on stage. Or at least, in front of people in seedy rave basements. They exist in a parallel universe where (as previously noted) surgery is the new sex, “everyone wants to be a performance artist,” and people have stopped feeling pain in the usual ways. And so they’ve taken to cutting each other open and rooting around in the viscera.
Other developments in this world are people growing new organs, for which there is now a “National Organ Registry,” (as represented by “Wippet” and “Timlin,” played by Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart, respectively) which, X-Men like, seeks to maintain a list of aftermarket organs to keep tabs on a society that is becoming “less human,” at a molecular level. There’s also a little boy who can digest plastic, a vice cop (Welket Bungué) and a gang of rogue plastic eaters led by Scott Speedman (I still can’t believe that’s his real name but apparently it is) who are out to promote their plastic-eating lifestyle.
Meanwhile, in typical David Cronenberg fashion, everyone is kind of horny for each other, and horny for gore. Crimes Of The Future takes the concept of wanting to “get up in those guts” very literally. Admittedly during the setup I got a little bored, having to keep track of who all the different characters were and why they wanted what they wanted. Obviously, Crimes Of The Future has an environmental message, sometimes abstract, sometimes on the nose (microplastics, anyone?).
But the joy of it isn’t that it’s a tidy metaphor; in fact it’s probably the exact opposite. Crimes Of The Future is a glorious overgrown garden of intersecting and contradictory ideas (no wonder Cronenberg loves body horror, his plots look like vascular systems). Should people cut out the “alien” organs their bodies are growing, like Saul Tinser, or trust that it’s part of a plan and maybe leading to something bigger, like Scott Speedman? In a macro sense, that all tracks, but the conceits Cronenberg constructs to illustrate it all are what make Cronenberg Cronenberg.
Whereas most other directors would probably make future technology small and sleek, like iPods and earbuds (Joseph Kosinski did this beautifully in Oblivion) the future tech in Crimes Of The Future all looks like it was created by HR Giger for use aboard the spaceships in Alien. The centerpiece of Saul and Caprice’s act is a classic, fully restored autopsy machine, with tiny, alien-like hands that Caprice operates using a remote control that looks like it was made out of ET’s fingers. Thus not only do we live in a world with 1. autopsy machines, 2. that look like alien bugs, 3. this one is also like some kind of restored classic car, suggesting Crimes Of The Future takes place in Rome-after-the-fall time period, when people scavenge technology that humanity can no longer produce. …And this technology exists for performing autopsies. How many other filmmakers’ brains work this way?
There are also alien/insect-looking pods that people like Saul sleep and eat in, the pods manipulating their bodies in order to sleep or digest better, with the implication being that their bodies are no longer capable of doing these things involuntarily anymore. It’s a cute enough idea, but in practice, watching a giant insect machine trying to help Viggo Mortensen digest his bowl of orange future slop is one of the best things I’ve seen in a theater in a long time, somehow simultaneously hilarious, disgusting, and sexual. David Cronenberg’s movies are like pimple popping videos, fascinating and cathartic in ways that defy explanation. I could watch him lance a boil over and over.