David Cronenberg doesn’t want you to look away from the thick surgery scenes in “Crimes of the Future,” but the director certainly knows you will.
Cronenberg’s first feature in eight years brings him back to his body horror roots with Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux playing surgical performance artists who publicly showcase the metamorphosis of human organs in avant-garde performances. When their acts capture the attention of a National Organ Registry investigator (Kristen Stewart), the true government mission becomes clear: Organ transplants will lead to the next phase of human evolution. “Crimes of the Future” premieres at Cannes this month before Neon releases it stateside on June 3.
The trailer famously teased that “surgery is the new sex,” and showed — among other graphic moments — a man’s eyelids being sewn shut.
“I do expect walkouts in Cannes, and that’s a very special thing. There are some very strong scenes,” Cronenberg told Deadline. “I mean, I’m sure that we will have walkouts within the first five minutes of the movie. I’m sure of that.”
And the ending isn’t much better: “Some people who have seen the film have said that they think the last 20 minutes will be very hard on people, and that there’ll be a lot of walkouts. Some guy said that he almost had a panic attack,” the “Fly” filmmaker added. “People always walk out, and the seats notoriously clack as you get up, because the seats fold back and hit the back of the seat. So, you hear clack, clack, clack.”
Cronenberg penned the screenplay, originally titled “Painkillers,” over 20 years ago. The “History of Violence” director revisited the story during the COVID-19 lockdowns and found that the future is even more horrifying now than it was then. Cronenberg swapped the title, borrowing from his 63-minute film “Crimes of the Future” in 1970; however, the two works are not related.
“Crimes of the Future” has already made waves following the Neon presentation at 2022 CinemaCon, but Cronenberg hopes the Cannes audience goes into screenings… well, blind.
“It will be the first time I will have seen it with an audience that knows very little about the movie, and therefore I will get laughs where I think they should be or not,” Cronenberg explained, maintaining the graphic film will retain his signature humor. “Of course, there’s also the question of language and the subtitles and so on, but French viewers who have seen the film, certainly, they get the humor. A lot of the humor is derived from the dialogue, so you need to know what the dialogue is to get the humor. But, yes, like all my films, it’s funny. It’s a funny film. It’s not only funny, but it’s definitely funny.”
Just don’t expect the same reaction as when Cronenberg’s sex-fueled “Crash” premiered at the festival in 1996.
“For one thing, there’s really no sex in the movie. I mean, there’s eroticism and there’s sensuality, but of course, part of what the movie says — and one of the characters says it very straightforwardly — is that surgery is the new sex. If you accept that, then, yeah, there’s sex in the movie, because there’s surgery! So, people might be put off by that,” Cronenberg said.
He continued, “Whether they’ll be outraged the way they were with ‘Crash,’ I somehow don’t think so. They might be revulsed to the point that they want to leave, but that’s not the same as being outraged. However, I have no idea really what’s going to happen. I guess that is the description of this movie: It’s going to either attract or repel people.”
It’s all relative, as Cronenberg added.
“My understanding of what is extreme, what is too violent, what is too sexual, really has to do with what the tone of the movie is, within the world of the movie. That’s my review. That’s where I’m operating,” he said. “Now, once you’ve done that, you can have distributors say, ‘I cannot distribute this movie in my country,’ because it’s too this, or it’s too that. And at that point, you say, ‘Well, OK, too bad. You don’t get to see it. That’s fine.’”
And Cronenberg isn’t going to “neuter” the film by worrying about how it will be received on the international scale in countries like Jordan, Hungary, France, or even the US
“I mean, there are so many approaches to censorship around the world — subtle and not subtle — that you would drive yourself crazy,” Cronenberg said. “I mean, if you take all of the censorship possible to heart, you will not say a word. You can’t speak. The way that the #MeToo movement can be used as a tool of censorship, for example, is a new approach, a new little arabesque on censorship, and it is used politically that way or is resisted as a censorious movement rather than a movement of some kind of liberation. So, you get all of these complexities involved.”
He concluded, “Once again, you are better to ignore it, and then you take the hits, I mean, you’re out there. You are very vulnerable. You are exposing yourself as an artist. Part of what you do is to expose yourself, and you are therefore susceptible to all kinds of criticism and anger and outrage and everything else.”
Yes, that also means walkouts.