David Cronenberg’s latest film, Crimes of the Future (2022), intentionally leaves numerous matters unresolved, causing the whole plot to leave more haze than clarity. Perhaps the most mind-puzzling is the film’s ending. So, here’s my take on the Crimes of the Future (2022) ending – what it means and how to read its context.
David Cronenberg’s indisputable ability to make our bodies sore as a natural reaction to his films’ twisted abnormalities and gory pieces seemed a bit rusty for a while now. The Canadian director left the likes of the grim Videodrome (1983) or The Brood (1979) and traded body horror pieces for films that escaped compartmentalization but were also far from his peak form. Despite that, Crimes of the Future (2022) debuted at Cannes as one of the year’s most anticipated movies.
Though some critics – in fact, the majority of them – applauded Cronenberg for the vision, Crimes of the Future (2022) didn’t work well with audiences. According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 50% of moviegoers enjoyed the film.
Several reasons can be listed for such a state of things. Compared to Cronenberg’s previous endeavors, this one’s awfully bland, to the extent that it becomes a mockery of what Cronenberg may have intended. Characters and subplots, as well as details, names, and facts that pile up around them, halt the filmmaker from crystallizing any essence of the main narrative. On top of that, the scares are mostly gimmicks that severely lack the guts-punch quality and viscerality factor that became synonymous with the director’s name.
Now, before we get to the bottom of the ending of Crimes of the Future (2022), let’s refresh the memory concerning the film’s plot.
Crimes of the Future (2022) – plot recap
Saul Tenser, played by Viggo Mortensen, exists in a hermetic world of artists who use their bodies as vessels for organ growing that are later removed as part of performances with live audiences. Each consecutive stunt costs Tenser a ridiculous amount of pain, and the only person who knows his true struggle is the artist’s assistant, Caprice (Lea Séydoux).
Between his acts, Tenser collaborates with the government, as he helps infiltrate a group of plastic eaters – enhanced humans who believe they’re the future of humankind.
The ending of Crimes of the Future (2022)
In the last scene of Crimes of the Future (2022), Saul Tenser sits in his bone-made chair with a grimace of excruciating pain contorting his face. That same chair comes back like a boomerang throughout the movie. Although its functional purpose remains unclear, one may assume the chair plays a significant role in sustaining Saul’s body alive.
So, what seems to be just another laborious organ-growing situation delivers a twist when Tenser consumes a synthetic bar – the same one the plastic eaters eat throughout the movie. Although Crimes of the Future (2022) multiplies characters and themes, the film’s spine revolves around the true nature of Mortensen’s character. Seconds before the movie ends, Mortensen’s character finally eases the tension, looking either entirely dead or fully relaxed.
Now, the question is – which one is it? Does Cronenberg ever hint at either of the possibilities?
Saul Tenser dies at the end of Crimes of the Future (2022)
Assuming that Tenser is, after all, just a regular human, the last scene is a symbolic act of suicidal liberation. When reduced to the most basic concepts, Crimes of the Future (2022) is really about a man who turns agony into a form of art, which is, on paper, a phenomenal idea for a horror movie. Art has been getting into the horror game with films such as Bliss (2019), Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), and Candyman (2021), but Cronenberg has added a very corporal factor to it.
If Tenser is human, there is no natural remedy for his sickness. Cronenberg argues that a tumor – a feared abnormality for significant numbers of people diagnosed each year – is a gift in the skilled hands of the surgical assistant and the controlled “environment” of Saul’s own body. But everyone has a pain threshold, and that interpretation of the ending of Crimes of the Future (2022) means that Saul Tenser finally decided to let go. Eating the bar would also be very certain death, and the proof is the scene when some random guy eats the bar and then dies within seconds – a kind of foreshadowing from Cronenberg.
Saul Tenser is a plastic-eater
Contrarily, Saul Tenser could be a plastic eater too. Plastic eaters suffer from pain if they do not eat, and the tumors growing in the artist’s body could also be the body’s reaction to the continuous lack of its “fuel.”
Two facts from the movie could back that theory up.
Firstly, the search for the boy’s body – one that brings Scott Speedman’s character to the narrative – ends with an autopsy that leaves the coroner baffled. The boy’s intestines are nothing like humans, and Tenser’s body may be transforming through the series of new organs that grow to process plastic.
That theory would also mean that Tenser was, indeed, a missing link between plastic-eaters and humans and, consequently, that plastic digestion is another step in human evolution.
What was the endgame for plastic eaters?
Following the above, Cronenberg throws a quasi-environmental punch with the idea of eating and digesting plastic.
Unlike other eco-themed horror movies – i.e., Gaia (2021) – Crimes of the Future (2022) doesn’t focus on nature’s response. Rather than that, Cronenberg’s onto the ever-matching adaptability of human bodies to the circumstances civilizations create. Presumably, after generations existed in a world dominated by plastic, human bodies have begun to adapt physically. The surroundings in Crimes of the Future (2022), leaning towards futurism and brutalism, reveal the history of erasing any connection to nature. That’s almost as if Cronenberg philosophized about the potential outcome of global warming. What if doom awaits the ancien regime while new generations – armed with naturally engineered bodies – outlive regular humans?
Furthermore, Crimes of the Future (2022) shows plastic-eaters as the repressed group – the others. Their existence constitutes a threat to regular humans, who won’t survive in a world dominated by the production of artificial food substitutes. Where does it leave the future, then? Well, that would undoubtedly be material for a sequel.
To conclude, the explanation of Crimes of the Future (2022) relies on one’s open interpretation. Aside from the theories in this article, there could be more ways to read between the particular scenes and lines of the movie. Whichever theory is true, Cronenberg’s film managed to stir discussions and creative thinking despite turning out to be a flop and one of the most disappointing movies of 2022.
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