Utopia

It’s appropriate, I think, that David Cronenberg got Greek money to shoot CRIMES OF THE FUTURE in Greece, because it may be his first utopian science fiction film.

It might not seem that way, but consider: it’s a world where infection and pain have been all but eliminated. Also, people seem to spend all their time making and consuming art. The few people we meet who have vaguely regular jobs seem to be living the dream: the tireless bureaucrats running the National Organ Registry set the place up themselves so they could work there; the sexy grease monkeys from LifeFormWare love their work; the cop has a sense of mission.

“…with all our earthly problems solved and with bigger ones worth the solving,” says Squadron Leader Peter D. Carter in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and this seems to be the heaven Cronenberg offers us. No mention is made of longevity or immortality, but he might as well have thrown that in too, since his characters are all in a search to give meaning to their lives, now that the usual problems of late capitalism and biology seem to have been removed.

Also, perhaps for budgetary reasons, there are no cars: motorhead Cronenberg might not consider that utopian, but I do.

The film feels quite NAKED LUNCH-y, but I think XISTENZ is the best comparison: there are factions in ideological conflict over questions of authenticity, but instead of Phildickian Big Question #1 (What is reality?) this is more about Phildickian Big Question #2 (What is a human being?). Evolution seems to be getting out of hand… is this a good thing or a bad thing? Though a performance art piece is titled Body is Reality, the film doesn’t play the VIDEODROME/NL game of leading us into hallucination without warning. Or at least I don’t think so.

CRASH is another comparison: again, factions, individuals and couples pursuing some kind of meaning through quite extreme activities

The film looks terrific: Cronenberg’s period films have always benefitted from the added panache imparted by the past. This uncertain future has its own aesthetic: retro tech is in fashion; biomechanical gadgets are everywhere. Rather than the glassy and inhuman Canadian architecture he started out celebrating, here Cronenberg has beautiful crumbling Greek buildings, acid-lit and ominous.

I have quibbles. The internal logic is at times flakey — Viggo Mortensen’s art involves regular surgical interventions, but his body starts out free of scars. This is a distracting puzzle that doesn’t help anything and could, one feels, have been inexpensively dealt with. Is the biomechanical chair supposed to be so shonky? The design is nice, but its awkward lurching doesn’t seem to perform any service for the poor occupants, especially while they’re eating. The motivations of one lot of assassins seemed vague to me, their place in the overall narrative unresolved.

On the other hand, this is perhaps Cronenberg’s most visually beautiful film: his new collaborators, like cinematographer Douglas Koch and costume designer Mayou Trikerioti, seem to tread nimbly in the footsteps of Peter Suschitzky and Denise Cronenberg, and composer Howard Shore and production designer Carol Spier are back to provide direct continuity with the past.

I’m undecided about the ending. It struck me as anticlimactic — we’d been waiting for an IMAGE to top all before it, and Cronenberg instead focuses on performance. It’s a lovely performance, though. A second viewing may clear my doubts away. At any rate, it’s a proper Cronenberg film, arriving when it had looked like we weren’t going to get any more of those. Now do RED CARS.

8 Responses to “Utopia”

  1. Cronenberg is as fascinating as he iuneven. “Naked Luch” was a total botch. By contrast “Crash” is a masterpiece. Looking forward to this new one as the cinema continues to shrink and wither away

  2. It’s a fascinating late work.

    I was just trying to think of any filmmaker who recycled a title from a very early work for a late one, without porting over any of the content, and I can’t.

  3. Crimes of the Future is Cronenberg’s first original screenplay since eXistenZ. Since then he’s been adapting other people’s stories rather than putting across his own. I think that’s the major divide in Cronenberg. Stories original to him (The Brood, Videodrome, Scanners, eXistenZ) and adaptations of pre-existing material. Of course some of his best are adaptations (The Fly, Crash).

    Among recent Cronenberg I liked “A Dangerous Method” his movie on Freud, but his other stuff I found inert but not without interest (Cosmopolis, Map to the Stars).

  4. Naked Lunch is an original story – though it owes something to Total Recall, which Cronenberg had hoped to make – dressed up in Burroughs’ life story and imagery. It can’t really be considered an adaptation, or if it is, DE’s classification of it as a failure would certainly be correct.

    I sort of enjoyed A Dangerous Method though I would certainly be tempted to call it inert. Cosmopolis seemed the most Cronenbergian of those last three: strange factions, ambiguous reality. Maps to the Stars I didn’t like, though I haven’t rewatched it.

  5. Burroughs book is enirel about drugs and gay sex. Cronenberg evokes drugs — though not heroin. As for gay sex he almost completely eliminates it. He drags in Paul and Jane Bowles for no reason whatsoever. By contrast in “Crash” James Spader gets it on with Elias Koteas con brio

  6. And the sauna fight in Eastern Promises is pretty homerotic too.

  7. I suppose Cronenberg and Burroughs might both argue that book and film are, at base, about CONTROL. Cronenberg always said he avoided censoring his subconscious while he wrote, but I think he had to do so here, since he had a source novel that couldn’t possibly be adapted faithfully (“It would cost $100 million and be banned in every country on earth.”) I do think this caused him to go too far: hard drugs and queer sex wouldn’t have rendered his movie unreleasable.

  8. That raises the question as to why he adapted Burroughs at all? Like Pasolini when he adapted De Sade went all the way didn’t he?

    Having seem Crimes of the Future, I liked it and I find it interesting though it’s not as fun as a movie as his other stuff. I think Crimes of the Future feels kin to Salo since its concerned about degradation of the world and growing dehumanization, as well as concerned about junk food in this case plastic based candy bars. Though of course it’s not as extreme (I always wonder what Cronenberg might think of Salo since that’s also a movie about “body horror”).

    I think the movie is about aging and growing old, Viggo Mortensen’s Saul is obviously an allusion to the director with Saul being the predecesor of David, and having the silver hair look. As you grow, your body fades and you become infirm and have to eat less of the food that you liked in your younger days.

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