by Victoria Alexander
It made sense to me. We are living in a culture where beauty is manufactured and anyone can change their body into whatever they can afford. Radical mutilation is now celebrated as art as long as it is done in front of a paying audience.
David Cronenberg’s CRIMES OF THE FUTURE delves into the narrow category of performance art where artists explore some existential truth using their bodies as the instrument. The popularity of extreme performance art is supported by an audience of people indulging in the orgasmic horror of viewing self-inflicted mutilation. The stars of this movement emerged in the 1970s.
French artist Orlan’s performances took place in an operating room and involved seven
operations/performances using plastic surgery to totally transform her face and body. In an early work called St. Sebastian, performance artist Ron Athey made arrows out of very long medical needles and inserted the metal into his head, which caused a lot of bleeding. In performances from the 90s, Athey included scarification, flesh hooks, branding, anal penetration, and surgical staplers.
Called “performance art,” public self-mortification was once the domain of the religious and it delivered. People were healed (or thought they were and that was what mattered). Anchorites were religious devotees who symbolically “died” and placed in a permanent enclosure in cells attached to churches. They said prayers for people through a slot in the bricks; the popular Convulsionnaires, who publicly drove themselves into a frenzy of convulsive distortion, produced miracles of healing, and my favorite of the self-mortificators, the Stylites! These ascetics lived on top of a pillar but increasingly the crowds forced the stylites to move to a higher pillar. The last pillar Simeon the Stylite occupied was reportedly more than 15 meters (50 ft) from the ground. At the top of the pillar was a platform, which was around one square meter and surrounded by a baluster.
Body suspension is performance art for people who do not have the restrictive requirements demanded by Cirque du Soleil. In a community of radical artists, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his companion Caprice (Léa Seydoux), perform surgeries as performances. Caprice is the “surgeon” using a device to open up Saul’s body and remove strange, unknown organs from his body. Saul has an unusual condition – his body is manufacturing new organs. What is the purpose of these organs? Is Saul the harbinger of evolution’s next step?
The social experiment of CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is called Accelerated Evolution Syndrome. Some humans are doing whatever they can to bring the next stage of evolution into the present.
Between 1081 and 1903, 20 living Shingon monks of Japan successfully mummified themselves in an attempt at sokushinbutsu, or becoming “a Buddha in this body.” The monks practiced extreme asceticism to the point of death and entered mummification while alive. The monks worked to dehydrate the body from the inside out, ridding the self of fat, muscle, and moisture before being buried in a pine box to meditate through their last days on Earth.
In their abandoned city, much like living in Fukushima, Saul and Caprice are stars among the inhabitants, who have adopted violence as a lifestyle and through intense suffering have eliminated the body’s need for pain.
A child has died under strange circumstances and a detective (Welket Bungué) is investigating. The child’s mother has confessed to the killing and the father, Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman), wants Saul and Caprice to open up his son’s body in a performance piece. Lang has transformed his body by only eating plastic. It’s the solution for too many plastic bottles suffocating the oceans. Lang’s like-minded group is growing. It’s become a movement of social change. Now it seems his son has inherited the need for plastic instead of food. This confirms to Lang that humans can affect evolution.
All over the world, performance artists are exploring different ways to alter their bodies. The aim is not Pythagoras’s Golden Ratio, but a technical method of drastic body reshaping. Celebrities and female rappers have elevated certain body parts to extreme proportions. Kim Kardashian seems to have removed her extravagant buttocks implants. Hollywood’s action stars who transformed themselves with Anabolic steroids must use these additives for the rest of their lives. The latest surgery is to have an unrecognizable new face.
Saul and Caprice visit The National Organ Registry, founded by Wippet (Don McKellar) and his assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart). Wippet thinks Saul would be a certain winner of his Inner Beauty Pageant.
Inner Beauty Pageant! It’s got potential!
The relationship between Saul and Caprice has evolved as she nightly cuts into his body and removes organs that might be useful. Is Caprice enabling Saul’s obsession or orchestrating his eventual death? Saul suffers from the agony of producing a new organ and then having it excised without anesthesia. Saul is intent on continuing until producing his last, sublime organ. His masterpiece.
Bodily transformation can be viewed as enhancing beauty (the refined nose, the perfect chin, the subtle lifting of the outer corner of the eyes) or intentionally horrific. There are devotees who engage in Soushinbori – The Full Body Suit, a Tebori tattoo and the grotesque human-to-animal transformation through bodily mutilation.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE solidifies David Cronenberg’s career theme of using one’s body as a device for expressing inner change, or is it cinematically crafting concept of Emptiness? Medical science has made stunning advancements, though they have not perfected the complexity of the vagina and an effective, well-run penis.With the iconic film THE FLY, Cronenberg indulged his curiosity about human transformation. With eXistenZ, people had bio ports implanted in their body to commune directly with a virtual reality. DEAD RINGERS lovingly slow pans the gynecology instruments the twin doctors use. And they are interchangeable, each one playing themselves and their twin. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE focuses on a man who has erased his former self and created a completely new persona. Then he is forced to resurrect that man when he is threatened.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE has a decaying luster that mimics the despair of humans. Like the ruins of Saul’s and Caprice’s neglected city, nothing escapes disintegration and aesthetic corruption. We carry around the carcass of our decaying bodies.
If all else fails, taking a stand through your body is a powerful message, as PrincessCharlene did when she “voluntarily” returned to Monaco after a 10-month absence with a statement hairdo. Presley Gerber, the beautiful son of Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber, showed his displeasure of his supposed privileged life by having the word “misunderstood” tattooed under his eye.
Gerber’s tattoo holds pride of place on my “f**k you” list.
Mortensen has a highly satisfying partnership with Cronenberg and here their creative collaboration is showcased by his absolute trust in his director. What director wouldn’t want to spend a few months with Seydoux? Regardless of Seydoux’s brutal criticism of the Palme d'Or winner, her controversial BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, it was the line of best fit for ensuring global stardom. If gossip is right and Stewart did not understand the plot of CRIMES, her quirky character is refreshingly obtuse and rivals the creepy weirdness of Don McKellar’s Wippet. I forgive Speedman for Grey’s Anatomy and abandoning Animal Kingdom if it meant being ready for Cronenberg.
The backlash against CRIMES is appalling. CRIMES was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and dozens of the audience were “shocked and stormed out”of the screening. I thought Cannes was the premier venue for sophisticated, worldly people impossible to shock. The audience paid a lot of money to attend Cannes and had conquered the impossibility of finding a place to stay. They were outraged! Perhaps the audience was made up of members of the U.S. National Association of Theatre Owners.
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