David Cronenberg knows the human body inside out. In six decades, he had fun transforming it over and over, so much so that experts have dubbed him the “king of body horror”. What does the director of “Crimes of the Future” think?
Where you see horror, David Cronenberg, he sees only beauty. In nearly sixty years of career, the director has forged a reputation as an author passionate about the human body. A human body that he enjoys deforming and remodeling beyond the limits of the imagination, even if it means creating dread and disgust.
A scientist who metamorphoses into a disgusting fly, a head that explodes into a thousand pieces, a mother who gives birth to mutant children… These are the images that flash through people’s minds when the filmmaker’s name is mentioned during a conversation.
Many of his films fall into a subgenre called the body horror – body horror in French. The term appeared at the beginning of the eighties and describes works in which the body is harmed. To put it simply: what should be inside often ends up outside. David Cronenberg has been held up as a master in this area.
For the release of Future Crimes, presented in Official Competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, AlloCiné went to meet him in a hotel in the 6th arrondissement, in Paris. The unique opportunity to ask him what he really thinks of this subgenre and the awarding of this title of “king of body horror”.
“I never used the expression body horror to describe anythinglaunches the director. It was applied to my films by someone, a critic or a film historian, then people picked it up, and now it’s become a genre in its own right..” When David Cronenberg started filming, body horror didn’t exist. “I don’t even see it as horror by the way”, he rectifies, before sketching a smile.
“I have no problem with that genre, but I don’t think that’s the essence of what I do.“For the father of Fly and of Videodrome, it is above all about inner beauty. He insists : “I don’t think what I show is terrifying. Maybe that’s the problem.”
In The Crimes of the Future, his twenty-second feature film, he pays homage to this inner beauty. It features the story of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), an artist adept at extreme performances. Thanks to the help of revolutionary machines and its partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), he has his organs removed under the eyes of a voyeuristic and revolted public.
One of the most beautiful sequences of the film reveals a unique character: Klinek, a man whose mouth and eyes are sewn. That’s not all: multiple ears are embedded on all parts of his body. A fascinating creation faithful to the filmmaker’s style, always capable of making the unimaginable possible.
“I wanted to express the idea that we talk and think too muchdetails David Cronenberg. We should listen more to others, to the world and to what it has to say. And I wanted to create an artist who could change and modify his body in a different way than the character played by Viggo Mortensen. As for me, my hearing is not very good, so that was my way of talking about it.”
This Man with Ears joins the imposing gallery of visual anomalies that run through his cinema. Looking back, David Cronenberg says his most complex creation was still that of the fly – for his eponymous 1986 film, his most famous. A transformation that required five hours – sometimes more – of work on the body of Jeff Goldblum.
“There were no digital effects back then. Everything was done with practical effects. Things are easier now. In The Crimes of the Futurea large part is physical and the other is made in computer graphics“, he reveals.
The machines’ surgical arms were notably manipulated by the team like puppets, but in some scenes they are entirely CGI. “I bet you can’t tell the difference between the twolaughs the director. That’s how much technology has changed.”
If his fantasies continue to shake people’s minds, David Cronenberg never had the desire to shock the public. Nevertheless, he appreciates the strong reactions and the passionate debates that arise around his stories. “I prefer that to indifferencehe concludes. The worst thing that can happen to your movie is that no one cares.”
Interview by Thomas Desroches, in Paris, April 29, 2022.
The Crimes of the Futurein theaters May 25, 2022.