‘Crimes of the Future’ review: A freakishly seductive voyage into the folly of man
Kristen Stewart and Léa Seydoux in 'Crimes of the Future.' | Courtesy of NEON

The new science-fiction horror film Crimes of the Future is one that will make many who watch it uncomfortable. Not only because of its graphic depiction of body horror, but due to the questions the film poses regarding what it means to be human and the future of our kind. It’s an imperfect movie with an alluring atmosphere and grotesque charm. The true crux of the film seems to deal with how our society, and those in power, have a tendency to stand in the way of progress. It’s a bizarre ride of a movie that may be too weird for some and too unclear in its intention for others.

Written and directed by David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), Crimes of the Future tells the story of a future in which the human species, in adapting to an increasingly synthetic environment, are dealing with their bodies undergoing new transformations and mutations. This is a world where humans no longer feel regular pain or get infections. A man named Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), along with his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), are celebrity performance artists who publicly showcase the metamorphosis of Saul’s organs in avant-garde productions. Saul finds himself in the midst of a political struggle between those who welcome what they see as the natural evolution of mankind and those who seek to keep it at bay for fear of what humans may turn into.

The concept of the film alone is pretty interesting to begin with. What kind of world would it be if people didn’t feel pain? If people could perform surgeries on each other, with all the cutting and probing, but not fear serious illness? Pain is such a cornerstone of the human experience, in that it usually alerts us to danger. The idea is that we learn lessons from pain. Touch a hot stove, get burned, and know not to touch it again. With that natural education gone, what’s to stop humanity from pushing the limits of depravity? This is where Cronenberg’s movie comes in, in a provocative way.

Many people will get caught up on the shocking visuals of the film. This makes sense in that there is a lot sprinkled in there to be shocked by. Bodies are cut open, organs are shown and pulled out, and violence is depicted in a tantalizing way. As one character notes, “Surgery is the new sex,” and that point is driven home in a good amount of the movie. Yet these scenes, as impactful as they are, almost feel distracting to the real plot. The film isn’t about the cutting and the probing; it’s more about what’s going on literally inside humans, and Saul’s internal struggle of what he fears he’s turning into. Some will come for the gore promised in the movie and realize they’ve been roped into more of a drama. Others will end up staying away because of the same gore and miss out on an interesting philosophical debate.

Our focal point is Saul, and Mortensen gives a solid performance of a man who feels extremely uncomfortable in his own body—figuratively and literally. He comes off as aloof and somber, thus setting the tone for a movie that never fully reveals all of its mysteries. Saul serves as the right kind of protagonist for a story like this because his discomfort is palpable, perhaps reflecting the discomfort the audience will have in viewing his physical struggles and the gore of the movie.

You’re never quite comfortable watching this film. It never lets you truly settle in. There’s so many jarring and outlandish moments that actively watching requires one to mentally check in with themselves about whether they’re okay with what they’re seeing. I think this is done on purpose, perhaps to test whether we as a society have become desensitized to violence just as the humans in this film have become physically desensitized to pain.

The stand-out award goes to Scott Speedman as Lang Dotrice. He serves as something of a revolutionary figure who questions the status quo. Speedman gives a vulnerable and compelling performance. He is also the only character, aside from Saul, who feels fully fleshed out, unfortunately.

Seydoux and Kristen Stewart do well when on screen, but their characters remain frustrating mysteries outside of their relationships with Saul. This seems like a missed opportunity given the film’s dystopian theme centering the body and our present reality of women’s bodies being the main subject of political discourse and oppression. Then again, if that aspect were added to the mix, it might make the film’s intention even murkier.

That’s because it may be hard to grasp what exactly Cronenberg is getting at with Crimes of the Future. A number of concepts are presented, but most of them feel unfinished. The one that shines brightest is the opposition between the idea of human progress and those who stand in the way of it, or who feel they should have the power to decide what kind of progress is allowed.

It stands out the most given our current struggle with climate change and what we’ve been told by scientists is needed to prevent global catastrophe. What is needed would put certain industries in great danger of becoming obsolete. It would challenge those that have been in power for decades. It would be a shaking down of the status quo. It is progress we have yet to truly make because certain powerful figures stand in the way of this change. This is the folly (lack of good sense) of man that we can’t quite get it together today to secure a better future for tomorrow.

The movie does give a hint of an answer on this, but it is subtle, leaving the rest to the audience to figure out whether we are comfortable with this change or not. Crimes of the Future is an experience, one that will have images that stick with you long after the credits roll. It won’t be for everyone because it may be out of many people’s comfort zones. And others may grow frustrated with trying to make sense of what the director wants the viewers to take away from it all.

If you’re interested in weirdness, discomfort, and debates around the human condition, then you may be up for watching the film. If not, then Crimes of the Future definitely won’t be your cup of tea.

NEON will release Crimes of the Future in theaters on June 3, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.