At The Movies: Cronenberg’s film shows the human body as a canvas for biological art

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Future Crimes (M18)

108 minutes, opens Thursday
4 stars

The story: It’s the future and a boy in a bathroom casually sits down and starts eating a plastic trash can like it’s a cookie. His mother looks on in despair. Her story, and that of her child, is tied to that of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), a performance artist with a crowd-pleasing trick: he has developed the ability to grow new organs. His companion is Caprice (Léa Seydoux), a former trauma surgeon. They meet Timlin (Kristen Stewart), a bureaucrat whose job is at the National Organ Registry, an agency that registers new body parts that some humans are able to randomly generate. The film was nominated for a Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Canadian screenwriter and director David Cronenberg has long been fascinated by the human body. It’s disgusting and magical and he loves it all.

His latest film, which comes after his other horror-tinged explorations into the nature of the flesh (Videodrome, 1983; The Fly, 1986; eXistenZ, 1999) is, quite literally, his most direct look at what it means to be owner. -operator of a set of bizarre and mysterious throbbing tunes and morsels.

In Marvel’s X-Men movies, mutations break out everywhere, causing humans to grow wings or a shape-shifting structure, leading to a race of superhumans. This film takes much of the same idea – in the future, bodies will react strangely to an altered planet – but instead of making the story a cool adventure, Cronenberg pushes it in the direction of horror.

There’s a certain physical horror here, mostly in how the phrase “surgery is the new sex,” spoken by a character, is portrayed.

On this point, the use of practical effects is remarkable. Tenser and others are opened like birthday pinatas and Cronenberg doesn’t let the camera cut as knives and hands penetrate. The dissections, although disturbing to watch, are largely bloodless, the better to observe the organs, quivering and translucent like jellyfish in an aquarium.

If the structures on display are beautiful, that seems to be the filmmaker’s point of view. These, by the way, look more like kidneys and spleens than genitals. In this world, sex, along with other biological acts like eating, is gross and viewers have to deal with it in their own way.

You never know exactly what the new organs are for – it’s not that kind of science fiction.

For Cronenberg, the structure of the human psyche is more interesting than the subcutaneous structures and he is, as usual, right.

His power as a filmmaker lies in making the surreal coherent and logical, even sexy. The thing that triggers the gnashing reflex in you today will be someone else’s pornography tomorrow.

Hot plug: Nightmares can be beautiful, even sexy, in this spooky, absorbing look at a next-level future.

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