In David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, characters can feel no pain. Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true for the dozens of attendees at the Cannes premiere of the horror drama that walked out midway through the film, unable to stomach just exactly what was happening on screen.
The movie also earned a seven-minute standing ovation, suggesting that it could be the most polarising title to debut at this year’s Cannes, reports Variety.
The film reunites Cronenberg with Viggo Mortensen alongisde Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux. It also finds Cronenberg back in his science-fiction/horror mode for the first time since 1999’s Existenz.
Crimes of the Future may not win the Palme d’Or, but it would land a prize for the weirdest movie of the festival. Mortensen plays a performance artist who has his organs operated on in some pseudo-sexual ritual in this dystopian universe.
Stewart plays an employee at the transplant center, who in one scene says to him, “Surgery is the new sex.”
The film includes a gory child autopsy scene, shots of bloody intestines, and characters who orgasm by licking each other’s open wounds. There’s also a chair shaped like an oblong human spine that rotates at grotesque angles.
“I’m very touched by your response,” Cronenberg said after the ovation. “I hope you’re not kidding, I hope you mean it.”
In a separate press screening for the film, critics largely stayed put for the duration of the film, with only five people leaving the theater. Though Crimes of the Future released a smattering of applause upon its ending, it wasn’t exactly enthusiastic.
Cronenberg has a rollercoaster history with the Cannes Film Festival.
He dropped a bomb on the festival in 1996 with the premiere of Crash, starring James Spader as a film producer who becomes involved with a group of people who turn to car crashes to get sexually aroused.
Cannes viewers booed the film and stormed out of the theater, and even jury president Francis Ford Coppola said that some jurors “abstained very passionately” to the decision to award Crash a special jury prize. The jury was far more favorable to Cronenberg in 2014 with the premiere of Maps to the Stars, which won Julianne Moore the best actress prize.
The official Crimes of the Future synopsis from Neon reads, “As the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, the body undergoes new transformations and mutations. His partner, Caprice (Lea Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.”
Cronenberg made headlines before Cannes for predicting festival attendees would walk out of the movie, but he clarified in a Variety interview, “I wasn’t saying that everybody will walk out. The audience in Cannes is very strange. It’s not a normal audience. A lot of people are there just for the prestige or for the red carpet. And they’re not cinephiles. They don’t know my films. So they might be walkouts, whereas a normal audience would have no problem with the movie. So who knows? But certainly, a lot of people walked out when we showed Crash.”
According to Neon, Crimes of the Future is rated R for “strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity, and some language.”
Crimes of the Future will be released in US theatres on June 3.
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