I don’t blog regularly these days – mainly because I’ve recently started a new job. I still read, I still watch films, I just don’t always feel like writing mini-essays on the culture I consume. I have fallen into a pleasant routine of going to the cinema most Friday nights. I really missed this during the pandemic and I’m glad I’m once more able to enjoy new films on the big screen. Of course I have a TV at home and streaming services cater to every possible cinematic taste these days, but it just isn’t the same.
So over the past few months I’ve seen:
- The Northman
- The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
- Stand by Me
- Three Thousand Years of Longing
And yes, I’ll probably get round to writing about all of them eventually, for I enjoyed them all and would warmly recommend them. But one of the benefits of having semi-retired from academia is being able to watch a film and not feel compelled to analyse it afterwards. Films can simply be enjoyed for what they are without being pushed into a theoretical framework. Who knew?
All jokes aside, some films demand an instant response, albeit not necessarily of the academic variety. I’ve been waiting for David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future for months, especially because it initially didn’t seem to have a UK release date at all, then because said release date implied months of frustrating anticipation. But yesterday was the day.
So what’s the film about? In a distant future society has collapsed, cars and smartphones have weirdly disappeared, and technology has turned organic. Most people no longer feel pain, infectious diseases are a thing of the past, and artists like main character Saul Tenser draw large crowds with their gory performances. Together with his partner Caprice, who cuts him open on stage to remove the new organs his body is producing, Tenser has become a sort of celebrity.
Fans of Cronenberg’s work will instantly recognize familiar themes: body horror, dystopia, humankind’s conflicted relationship with technology. Characters sit in H.R. Giger-like skeletal chairs that help them eat – in Tenser’s case, unsuccessfully – and move through dilapidated buildings where mould is the only thing that decorates the walls. Sometimes the film feels almost nostalgic – it’s certainly an interesting companion piece to classics such as Videodrome.
The few other people that turned up on this rainy Friday night started leaving after half an hour and by the end I was the only person left. That says it all, really. This film is not for everyone. It won’t satisfy horror fans: while it has gore, there isn’t as much of it as one might expect, and the film’s pace is very slow. Science fiction fans will not like it either: there is much fiction but little science. Everyone else will probably just be put off by the films weirdness. It is really very strange.
But then, what would you expect from the man who made Naked Lunch? Cronenberg’s work is not for everyone, but if you know and appreciate his older films this new one is very much worth your time. For viewers willing to go along with Cronenberg’s nightmarish visions of a world in which eating toxic waste is considered the only way forward there’s a lot to unpack here.
Rather than the plot, which is interesting but to me felt like little more than a way to keep the scenes together, the film’s many dreamlike shots keep haunting me well after I was the last to walk away from the cinema. A man desperately trying to eat while being embraced by a horrific chair made out of bones. A woman admiring a tattooed organ. A boy nibbling a plastic waste basket. Cronenberg’s world is hardly uplifting but it is strangely beautiful and captivating in all its horrifying detail.
And yes, you could interpret the film as a clever commentary on our messed-up world, in which influencers figuratively open up online and share their body and mental state with their followers. Perhaps we will end up eating plastic, the way more and more processed food is invading our kitchen cupboards. Cronenberg’s world is disgusting and morally bankrupt. But what makes it truly disturbing is the realization that, perhaps, its crimes are less futuristic than we’d like to admit.