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Crimes of the Future: The New Flesh

[The following essay contains MINOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

Over the course of his career, David Cronenberg has become synonymous with “body horror.” In truth, though, that label is both reductive and misleading: “horror” is only one small piece of the equation behind his rarely replicated success in the subgenre. From Shivers (in which a man suggestively caresses the pulsating tumors covering his abdomen) to Videodrome (in which James Woods uses the barrel of his gun to experimentally probe the vaginal VHS slot that has grown on his chest) and beyond, the director has always been obsessed with the intersection between revulsion and sensuality. The transformation of the flesh can be grotesque, to be sure, but there is also an alluring (albeit perverse and subversive) beauty in the process of metamorphosis—in transcending one’s own humanity and transitioning into something else.

Identity, in short, represents a new frontier, and Cronenberg’s characters boldly venture forth into uncharted territory.

Crimes of the Future—in which Léa Seydoux performs an approximation of oral sex upon an unzippable incision in Viggo Mortensen’s stomach—may just be his most explicit expression of this theme to date. In the film’s setting, evolution is subject to government regulation, and mutation and genetic modification are considered criminal offenses punishable by death. Public surgery and consensual mutilation have therefore become acts of rebellion, protesting against the oppressive forces that seek to impede the natural development of organic life.

Rather than simply assaulting the audience with the obligatory nightmarish imagery, however, Cronenberg adopts a surprisingly hopeful, optimistic, and occasionally even borderline triumphant tone. Ultimately, he encourages viewers to reclaim ownership of the “self” and embrace “otherness.” It is an allegory pregnant with multiple implicit meanings, open to infinite possible interpretations—and that tantalizing ambiguity makes Crimes of the Future all the more seductive.

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