After a long absence, David Cronenberg returns with “The Crimes of the Future”. A science fiction film, but not only. It is also a reflection on the body and the emotions of the human being. The director expresses his thoughts. Meet.
David Cronenberg continues to move the lines. In The Crimes of the Future – a project he has had for a long time – he depicts a world where surgery has become a new form of sexuality. Having become desensitized, human beings have no choice but to explore extreme pleasures.
Worn by Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart, the film is presented in Official Competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. AlloCiné spoke with the director to lift the veil on the secrets of this unique work.
AlloCiné: You wrote The Crimes of the Future twenty years ago, before putting the script away in a drawer. The film surprises with its relevance and modernity. Did you rework or modify the script before filming?
David Cronenberg: No, I didn’t change the script at all. I didn’t even make a second version. Changes have occurred during production, but that’s normal. For example, I wrote the film with Toronto in mind and we ended up shooting it in Athens. I appropriated the city, the Mediterranean, the different light, everything that doesn’t exist in Toronto.
Athens is a very old city and it experienced a great financial collapse in 2008. There are many abandoned, rusty buildings. I used all of this in The Crimes of the Future. However, the dialogues remained the same. It is a direct translation of what I wrote twenty years ago. It shows how the film seems to be ahead of its time and works.
You prepare your films on set, with your actors. You trust your instincts. For example, you don’t prepare storyboards.
For me, storyboards are like a straitjacket. I don’t want that. With Viggo Mortensenwhen I’m on set, I tell him: “Viggo, let’s see how we play this scene“I want his opinion, his involvement, his collaboration. If you do a storyboard, you slow down the actor.
I ask him : “How do you want to play this scene? Where do you want to put yourself?“When I arrive on set, I still don’t know what the film should be. So yes, instinct is very important to me.
There are similarities between Saul, the hero played by Viggo Mortensen, and yourself. You also make art with your organs: you sell pictures of your kidney stones. Do you think this character is the most like you?
Certainly. I write a lot of my own scripts, so I put things of mine in it. Viggo Mortensen definitely think this is my most, he says, “autobiographical” film. Obviously I don’t do surgery on myself, but there is a connection. He is the archetype of the artist who gives everything of himself, from within, to his audience. And so, insofar as I do that too, then, yes, he looks like me.
In the movie, humans have become numb to pain. To feel alive, artists must scarify themselves. Do you think it is possible to make art without suffering?
Yes. I don’t think suffering is necessary. Art can also be synonymous with joy and positive experiences. For sure. But if you are alive, you will experience suffering. There is no doubt about it. Art is our way of dealing with reality. That of the human condition, the reality of death and loss. Everyone ends up experiencing all of these things.
We are destroying the world.
The extreme performances in the film are impressive. There are indeed artists who use their bodies and mutilate themselves on stage. Have you ever attended similar shows to write these scenes?
I did some research and I knew artists deliberately hurt themselves. They hang on hooks for example. Since I wrote the screenplay, there are a lot more performance artists. It has become more popular. It was quite rare, I think, twenty years ago. It’s much more prevalent now, perhaps because more people are suffering more. But I had never seen performances like you can see in the film, so I really made them up.
In most of your works, your characters are in search of freedom. This is again the case here, with The Crimes of the Future.
Initially, the scenario was called Painkillers – Painkillers in French. So that was an essential part of the story: people are numb, they can’t feel anything anymore, so feeling pain has become something they crave. They are in search of their own humanity.
Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart talk about David Cronenberg :
How did you create the machines visible in the film?
I work with Carol Spier, my head designer. It was she who found the artists to draw these creations. For example, the Sark bed, the one on which Viggo Mortensen’s character rests. Originally, in the script, it looked much more like a spider’s web. On paper, it worked. When we started to really design it, it wasn’t right at all.
We tried something completely different, more organic. So I had many drawings, many sketches, several possible versions, and even three-dimensional computer-generated image versions, which is possible today.
Do you know where these machines are stored today?
I do not have the faintest idea (he starts laughing, editor’s note.)
Before The Crimes of the Future, each viewer can make their own interpretation. In my opinion, it’s a film aimed at younger generations who will have to be stronger to survive a more difficult world.
I don’t make movies to get messages across, but I have three kids and now four grandkids, so I can’t stop thinking about what’s happening to the world. It is obvious that we are destroying it. I am also thinking of the incredible environmental damage caused by any war, then the threat of nuclear war. I lived through the fifties and this fear of nuclear devastation, I know what it is.
It’s a science fiction film and yet, many facts are close to reality. Our bodies evolve, they become more powerful.
Body resilience is incredibly complex. At the beginning of my studies, I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to specialize in cell biology. What we thought of the cells was utterly naive compared to what we later discovered. The body still has many surprises in store for us.
Interview by Thomas Desroches, in Paris, April 29, 2022.
The Crimes of the Futurein theaters May 25, 2022.