In the near future, societal collapse and environmental decay has reached a point where pain is no longer felt by humans and horrific growths caused by Advanced Evolution Syndrome are commonplace on the human body. Performance artist Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux) remove these growths as part of their world-famous act. Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator for the National Organ Registry, is drawn into their world, as a group of radicals who believe humanity should embrace its evolution begins to gain momentum...
David Cronenberg's love of grossing out audiences and shocking them into submission is nothing new. Go all the way back to 'Shivers' and 'Videodrome', bring it right up to now, and Cronenberg's penchant for fucked-up sexuality and even more fucked-up body arrangements has remained intact. Yet, what's occurred in Cronenberg in recent years is that he has become decidedly introspective and personal in his work. 'Map To The Stars' was a dark and confusing examination of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. 'Crimes of the Future' is concerned with the idea around a world collapsed in on itself trying to force its way out rather trying to live with it.
Viggo Mortensen's performance artist character can't eat or sleep without the help of intricate machines that looked like they rolled out of HR Giger's museum, and is rarely seen outdoors without a heavy black mask covering half his face and a darkened hood over his snow-capped hair. He can just about make it through conversations with people outside of his immediate orbit, never mind having "old sex" without the use of machinery. Mortensen's character and his messed-up coping mechanisms are at complete odds with Scott Speedman's reluctant antagonist, who believes human beings should embrace their evolution and wants to begin "repairing" the world by the process of eating the plastics that surround them everywhere.
As you'd expect, the performances from all concerned are tailored to the kind of weirdness that surrounds them. Mortensen and Seydoux do have a loving, lived-in relationship, and it feels authentic for it. Mortensen is able to play all of the foibles in his character with ease, while Seydoux's assuredness is the foil. Stewart, meanwhile, is almost comic relief in this, while Scott Speedman plays the bug-eyed radical with sweaty intensity.
'Crimes of the Future' is the kind of ponderous, metaphorically rich stuff that drives arthouse audiences crazy but can often bore mainstream audiences to tears. Cronenberg knows how to exist in both worlds - but seems ultimately concerned with staying in his own world, one where conventions such as pacing, story, and character development are all secondary to atmosphere and aesthetics. The look and feel of the movie are all that matters, and the gut (no pun intended) reactions we have to the unbridled and stomach-churning horrors bear this out.
There is something truly defeated and bleak about 'Crimes of the Future', and if this were to be Cronenberg's final movie, it is exactly the kind of thing he would want to part on - something dark, shocking, metaphorical, and pondered over for years to come. The problem with this is that 'Crimes of the Future' becomes so burdened with this that it smothers it entirely. The concept and the metaphor crush everything, so that it becomes impenetrable and ultimately as alien and off-putting as the world it exists in.