David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” has a heady premise: As a disease called “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome” causes unusual organs to grow inside the body of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), his partner (Léa Seydoux) surgically removes them in front of a live audience. Needless to say, the world-building is a bit complicated! Luckily, the director and some of his cast shed light on the dark secrets of “Crimes” during a preview night Q&A in Manhattan.
Much like the audience, Cronenberg’s depiction of bodily autonomy wasn’t always clear to the lead actors.
“I have to admit that I didn’t quite understand everything when I read the script at first,” Seydoux said at the Thursday night event. “I jumped in the pool, and I think that’s what David wants. He’s an observer of his own work.”
She continued, “To me, it was also a metaphor about what it is to be an artist, and this is how I related to the film. As artists, we just give everything — our body and our soul.”
Cronenberg said he “really didn’t care” if Seydoux or any of his actors understood the meaning behind his story as he wanted to elicit a raw performance.
“You cast brilliant actors who are just right for the role, and it doesn’t matter if they think they don’t know what they’re doing,” Cronenberg said. “I’ve had many actors say, ‘I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.’ And I say, ‘yeah, you just keep doing that.’ I really want to see what the actors’ intuition is and what the actor brings.”
He continued, “We don’t have discussions, we don’t rehearse, we don’t intellectualize. When I see what happens on the set, unless there’s something that everybody thinks has gone off the rails, I don’t say anything.”
Mortensen, who has now worked with Cronenberg on four different films, praised the director for his ability to inspire trust in his actors.
“He can back up what he’s doing and explain it if need be,” Mortensen said. “You realize that he has your best interests, the character you’re playing, at heart as much as anything else. That trust allows you to try things without questioning too much that you might otherwise not try for other directors so readily.”
Cronenberg said Tenser, who places his own organs on display for people to see, represents a true passionate artist.
“Tenser is really an avatar, a template or model of the artist who is actually giving everything he could give, opening himself up and giving what is the deepest, most intimate part of himself hidden inside,” Cronenberg said. “He’s offering it up to his audience and therefore being incredibly vulnerable to ridicule, to rejection, to misunderstanding, to anger. And to me, that is the model of a true passionate artist.”
Beyond the experimental depiction of creative expression, Cronenberg’s film is a larger interpretation of what the next step of human evolution might look like.
“I think we are evolving, not devolving,” Cronenberg said. “I think our nervous systems are completely different from human beings 100 years ago. I think the use of screens, the use of digital technology has actually altered our nervous systems.”
Just as the climate-ravaged setting seen in “Crimes of the Future” implies, Cronenberg said he believes that evolution doesn’t always equate with effectiveness.
“When Darwin talked about evolution, he wasn’t talking about it leading gradually to something superior,” Cronenberg said. “Evolution does not mean going to something better, it means something different.”