revew: David Cronenburg – Crimes of the Future
Crimes of the Future/
by David Cronenburg/
feat. Viggo Mortensen; Léa Seydoux; Kristen Stewart/
Our Bodies are Not Fascists
Brecken is eight and he is dead. He lies on an ergonomically-designed slab-cum-instrument which both displays and dissects him. He is here because his body is a symbol. His body is a symbol because it has grown new organs; when he was alive, Brecken’s body could consume and digest plastics, and this dissection will be proof that such bodies can grow themselves organically. The government operates a cult of purity around human form; it would be a condemned perversion to alter one’s body to have it function like Brecken’s. But Brecken’s body is a natural evolution and has made itself this way. When Brecken’s organic, functioning mutation is exposed to the audience gathered, it will contradict the ideas their world is built on. There is a real danger his existence could change the world.
Crimes of the Future is a film which articulates how our bodies can be sites for fascism. The sanctity of the body is a fascist conceptual tool. Not an inherently fascist concept, but a concept which fascisms have employed throughout history. It can be useful to describe an ideal body, by which all others are judged. And the border between ideal and degenerate implies the violence of its maintenance. The trick places the degenerate body ever-present inside our own – when a hair grows where it is not wanted, when a wrinkle appears, when we are tired or weak – and these violations are betrayals, your body betraying your soul, and betraying your body’s duty to the ideal aesthetic.
Tenser is a performance artist and undercover cop. His body regularly betrays him, constantly growing novel, superfluous organs. He has infiltrated the art world by making a spectacle from his organs, removing them in public surgeries and partnering with Caprice, who conducts the surgeries and tattoos the organs while they are still inside him. As a fascist spy, Tenser is a novel organ within the scene. As his organs grow, they produce new hormones which alter his biochemistry. Submerged in the art world, Tenser absorbs a new, antithetical relationship with form and aesthetic, becomes dangerously capable of appreciating beauty, and of understanding that new organs are not the threat.
Tenser struggles to sleep without pain, and he struggles to eat. To facilitate both of these, he makes use of external medical peripherals: a bed which plugs into his circulatory system, rocks and monitors his hormone levels; an exoskeleton eating-chair which jostles to coax mouthfuls of food down his oesophagus. Tenser is living at odds with the actions of his own body, gathering intelligence on those who embrace and celebrate humanity’s new and increasingly frequent mutations, while his own gradually make his existence less tenable. In his investigations, he encounters Dotrice, representative of a group who have embraced mutation and modify their bodies away from ‘classical’ definitions. Dotrice and his group eat plastic exclusively, and are no longer in combat with their digestive systems. Their ‘perversion’ is a medical and social adaptation to the bodies and lives they have.
For the fascist, perversion is to age, to grow, to breathe, move and digest freely: to live euphoric in relation to one’s embodied place in the world. For the fascist, the new altered bodies exceed what can be defined as ‘human’. And they are right, but their definition is no longer useful – when we evolve to occupy the world in new ways, the old words and definitions are only uncomfortable boxes. What benefit, specifically, is being ‘human’? We are what we are, and when we are able to share and experience the world comfortably, who cares what form we do that in?
Dotrice believes Tenser will be able to digest plastic, too. He leaves a bar of it with him, which Tenser does not eat but does not throw out. During a particularly painful episode of attempting to eat, Caprice brings him the plastic bar. Tenser accepts the bar, transgressing his programming as a cop. Crossing this border, Tenser is finally accepting the logic of his lived body, listening to what his body needs, rather than squeezing it into what is acceptable. This is the crystallisation of Tenser’s appreciation of art and humanity violating his structural role as a spy. When Tenser embraces his disabled body, he ceases to be a cop, he severs his connection with fascism by accepting the reality of his physical form. The act of eating becomes a jouissance which frees him from the ideology of repression, preservation and surveillance. He can bite, he can chew, he can swallow.
I have seen Wendy Cope’s poem ‘The Orange’ shared around a lot lately. It’s easy to find online, it is short and simple and clear – and for all these things it is a great poem. It is about buying, sharing and eating an orange and the impact it has throughout the teller’s whole day, finishing on the line, ‘I love you. I’m glad I exist.’ The attitude I have seen it shared in is of a celebration of simple pleasures. The world is hard right now, we all know, but things like this, eating oranges and sharing small pieces of our lives with friends, they (fascists) can’t take those things away from us.
And I’m afraid I bring doom by saying, no, they (fascists) can take those things away from us and they are doing their best to do so. They want us to feel guilty about eating, to feel scared of sharing, to have no time for poems, to be frightened to leave the house. Fascism can (and seeks to) invade our bodies, our lives, our relationships. It wants us to be ashamed we exist and it does this by making us poor and overworked, by pitting us against our bodies, by hating our capacity for love.
When Brecken’s body is cut open, his novel organs have been secretly tattooed – scrawled over with symbols of death – symbols to indicate their perversion and guide their audience’s revulsion-response. Caprice and Tenser, performing the autopsy, are appalled by this betrayal. Brecken’s organically new body has been transformed into an entarteter body – framed as a degenerate expression of a poisoned world. Fascism has invaded beneath his skin and perverted the artistic message of liberation Caprice and Tenser believed they were unveiling. This seed of the revolution is crushed.
Our bodies and our art can be mobilised for fascism, under our noses. The threat of fascism is that it is totalising, unspecific: it can take and reframe something unambiguously opposed to its mission, as proof of its boogeymen, to feed the fascist myth of persecution. Fascism is most dangerous when in control of the frame through which art is seen and stories are told.* The most effective radical tactic against fascism in Crimes of the Future is the lives of the plastic-eaters: small cells locally, large, uncountable numbers of groups nationally and internationally. The plastic-eaters casually produce threats like spontaneous organs, by living an existence which is contradictory to those myths the fascist is selling. Brecken’s body as an act of Antifa propaganda has failed, but one of these days, so long as they survive, the plastic-eaters’ existence will expose a contradiction which cannot be denied. The antidote, Crimes of the Future proposes, is surviving, living fluid lives, nurturing suspicion of tradition, and being mindful of the frame.
*See, for example, the censorious rage online Fascist communities threw at This Egg’s The Family Sex Show earlier this year. A currently popular fascist obsession is framing anything which challenges their narrow definitions of love and relationships as sinister, criminal sexual deviance.