This article contains spoilers for Crimes of the Future.
David Cronenberg's new body horror film, Crimes of the Future, begins with a young boy sitting on the shore of a lake. His worried mother appears at the doorway in the house behind him and warns him that he better not eat any of the junk he finds in the water. Later, we see the boy pick up a trash can and chow down on it, biting off pieces of plastic like the brittle chocolate of a hollow Easter bunny.
The mother is upset, and, once he has fallen asleep that night, she approaches the boy in his bed, takes a pillow in her hands, and smothers him. In the morning, she calls her ex-husband to tell him to pick up the corpse of his "creature."
This is the movie's first scene, and we won't return to these characters for quite some time. Instead of providing context for this strange scene, the film switches focus to Viggo Mortensen's Saul Tenser and Lea Seydoux's Caprice, performance artists who stage live surgeries for a paying audience. In this vague near-future, Tenser's body has evolved to the point that it consistently produces novel organs. Leaving them in place would likely kill him, so the pair make art out of controlling the growth. Seydoux operates a whirring rig of scalpels by pushing on a gushy control panel, roughly the size, shape, and texture of a bulbous adult bullfrog.
In this world where pain has virtually ceased to exist, taking a knife to someone's flesh has become a sensual experience. As Kristen Stewart's twitchy Timlin, one of two employees for the newly formed (and apparently understaffed) National Organ Registry, memorably whispers in Tenser's ear, "Surgery is the new sex."
Okay, fine, but what about the murdered plastic-eating boy?
Crimes of the Future takes its time returning to the weird dead kid. But, in the meantime, we see a strange man we haven't been introduced to take a purple candy bar from the boy's father, Lang Dotrice, bite it, begin foaming at the mouth, and fall over dead. This moment is also confusing and, again, the film takes its time before giving us answers. In the meantime, all I could do was think about how tasty the deadly purple candy bar looked and how much I would like to take a bite of the trapezoidal violet hunk.
In moments, the bar looks like a chunk of grape fruit leather, the result of something organically indigo pressed and pounded until it loses any resemblance of the natural world. Other times, it looks like a Larabar, General Mills's glorified granola, made from a chunky puree of nuts and fruits and vegetables. But, when it is shown up close, it looks like a gold bar, but coated in a layer of deep purple coloring. It doesn't look natural, but it does look good, like when a bar of soap appears like it might secretly taste like white chocolate.
Eventually, we find out that the deadly candy bar is a "synth bar," made from toxic synthetic substances only suitable for a group of people, led by Dotrice, who have modified their bodies to be able to digest plastic; a fitting modification for a world — not dissimilar to our own — that is drowning in a substance that will remain in landfills and oceans for hundreds of years before it fully decomposes. Somehow, in a miracle of evolution that the film nods to but doesn't fully explain, the father's surgical modification seems to have passed on to his son as an inheritable trait.
Even understanding the full ramifications of the food, I still wanted a bite. Apparently, Saul Tenser did, too. Having become convinced that his constantly re-growing organs may have furnished him with the same digestive system as the plastic-eating boy, Tenser takes a bite of the purple bar. As the film ends, we see Tenser through the grainy footage of Caprice's camera. As the film ends, it is unclear whether Tenser survived his encounter with the forbidden candy, but in the moment before the credits roll, he looks content; satisfied.
It's a great, ambiguous ending. Has Tenser evolved to the point that he can consume plastic like the boy before him? Or after coughing and rasping and sleeping uneasily through much of the film, is he grateful for the absence of pain that will accompany death? I don't know. Regardless, it looks like he enjoyed that candy bar, and the ending has only reinforced my desire to take a bite of the stomach-ruining foodstuff.
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