David Cronenberg's future in Crimes of the Future is one without physical pain but with much distress. What is the next step in human evolution and will the powers-that-be allow for a new future? Gabe works to unpack the messages in the film and discusses a world in which surgery is the new sex. Kat explains how recycling is a scam and how insidious microplastics are.
Sources in this Episode: Crimes of the Future, Explained: Dissecting David Cronenberg's New Movie Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam | Climate Town Microplastics are in our bodies. How much do they harm us? Microplastics cause damage to human cells, study show Plastic-Eating Microbes — “Rapid Evolution” May Not Be Darwinian at All Bugs across globe are evolving to eat plastic, study finds
Other Crimes of the Future Reviews: Crimes of the Future, Explained: Dissecting David Cronenberg's New Movie CRIMES OF THE FUTURE | The Essential Explanation David Cronenberg Explains What 'Crimes of the Future' Is Really About 'Crimes Of The Future' Ending, Explained: What Happens At The Live Autopsy Performance? Is Saul Dead Or Alive? | DMT David Cronenberg on the evolution to 'Crimes of the Future' - Los Angeles Times Transhumanism, Surgery as Sex, and Humanity's Frightening Evolution - Signal Horizon Crimes of the Future: Why Scott Speedman's Character Is So Important “A Great Future in Plastics”: Crimes of the Future and Cronenberg’s Story of Evolution - Bright Lights Film Journal A Meditation on Human Evolution - Crimes of the Future Crimes of the Future is Cronenberg Evolved Crimes of the Future: Evolution of the New Flesh – The Twin Geeks
Media from this week's episode:
Crimes of the Future (2022):
Humans adapt to a synthetic environment, with new transformations and mutations. With his partner Caprice, Saul Tenser, celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.
Director - David Cronenberg
Crimes of the Future: Digital Apocalypse Meets Eco Horror by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
In the, hopefully very distant, future humans have evolved to no longer feel pain or much of anything. Illnesses are infrequent, pandemics a thing of the past. In this painless future, surgery is the new sex. An art form has arisen where one man, Saul Tenser, grows new organs has them removed in an overly sexual way in front of an overly horny crowd. These organs are perplexing, no one knows quite what they are designed to do or what to make of them. I guess you could say he has a red thumb, right? Because he grows organs, instead of plants. /laughter. Cronenberg’s future plays much into his aesthetic of flesh technology. This future tech looks primitive, inspired by the earthen exoskeletons of insects or the creativity of the Flintstones.
Cronenberg is well known for his stomach churning and perplexing dives into society, our obsession with technology, and the outright filth that is humanity. He gets a kick out of making you squirm, slicing up the body and modifying it into a forced evolution. Crimes of the Future, is no different. It begs the question, is human evolution over and will we need to adapt manually to give future generations a fighting chance? The digital apocalypse, as discussed on a previous Ghoul’s episode, shows us a world in which our “evolutions” are based in technology. Our adaptations assisted by the digital world, the machines an extension of our bodies. This blend of human and machine will become seamless, with us not able to distinguish where the flesh ends and the tech begins.
Cronenberg’s future isn’t too far off from this envisioned future only in that the changes do become genetic and affect the generations to come. Cronenberg’s tech in this film is disturbing, as always. The devices are designed to support everyday functions, such as sleeping without pain or digesting easier while eating. The latter of which is a skeletal chair that rocks around and spoon feeds you. It seemed less than ideal but had me thinking about accessible furniture design. This is one of the many themes explored in the film. This technology, however, is a hedonistic pursuit rather than a purely practical one. Humans can’t feel and the world has been adapted around them to compliment that, becoming numbing and catering to their any need, resulting in comfort. Without the stressors and challenges of life as we know it, humans seek out more reckless and wild things for pleasure, including surgery or just good ol’ slicing up your skin moments. Once humans have evolved past the basic needs, free of pain and suffering, our bodies become simply vessels reduced to storage devices for our minds. Art, as we see it in this film, is the final pursuit of humanity. Imagine what we could create were humanity to no longer need.
In an interview for the Canadian radio show q, Cronenberg explains his fascination with humans and our conenction to technology, “The body, for me, is the essence of human existence. It is what we are, and everything comes from that, including technology. In the 1950s, technology was this inhuman stuff from outer space that threatened us, you know, strange weapons and stuff like that. For me, technology has always been ultra-human and a complete extension of what we are. Our fists become, you know, missiles [...] So technology also becomes what we are, for the good and the bad. And you see it with every new technology. You see the internet, you see social media. It's wonderful, and it's horrible, horrible and horrifying. At the same time, it brings out the worst of us, and also the best. So to me, it's just natural to go there. I'm diving into the essence of what we are and the essence of the human condition, and [Crimes of the Future] takes me there.”
Crimes of the Future follows Saul Tenser, a man with “accelerated evolution syndrome” which has him growing new organs with unknown functions, and his partner in future-crimes, Caprice who hold surgery performances to remove those pesky extra organs. The film opens with a seemingly normal child on the beach. We cut to this not-so-normal child later as he brushes his teeth. Clearly craving more than dinner and with the strongest case of pica I’ve ever seen, he begins chomping away at the plastic trash bin near the sink. Foaming white liquid seeps from his mouth, allowing him to eat this Willy Wonka furniture item. His mother, troubled by this “creature” then kills the boy as he sleeps. We hear later, as she leaves a message for her now ex-husband, that she blames him for the creature and tells him to come get his son. This father, Lang Dotrice, does so and mourns the loss of his son. This plastic-eating boy is incredibly important, we later find, as he is the next step in human evolution.
Lang and his band of merry men, have surgically changed themselves to be able to digest and consume plastic. Lang explains to Tenser in a later scene, that there had been a long-hunger, a rumbling in his tummy that only plastic could satisfy. These modified humans now eat Soylent Purple, a plastic protein?? Bar, reminiscent of the bug bars from Snowpiercer only much better for the environment. Lang enlists Tenser’s help to do a live autopsy as one of his shows, where they will dissect Breckon, Lang’s son, and show that he is naturally evolved and had inherited the forced evolution his father underwent. Meanwhile Tenser is working with a detective, Cope, who has a strange growth of his own that is never addressed. Cope, for some reason, doesn’t want the world to know about the plastic eaters or the potential for future born plastic eaters. So Cope enlists the help of the incredibly uncomfortable to watch, listen to and be around, Timlin, played by Kristen Stewart who swaps out Brecken’s organs in an act of sabotage.
Timlin works for the National Organ Registry designed to tag, tattoo and document the new organs…because of reasons, lest they wander off somewhere. I’m not going to lie, I don’t 100% understand this film or any of Cronenberg’s films for that matter, but I do what I can. There’s quite a deal of subplots and missing exposition that make the film a tad difficult to comprehend with only one watch through. Other than the “government is evil” theme, I can’t understand why they would be so against plastic eating humans. Though, I can’t remember a time when the government or powers that be have been okay or on board with change of any kind. There’s certainly a desire to keep things pure and controlled. Even Cope’s neglect of his own abnormalities is strange and harmful. So caught up in maintaining the status quo, he is willing to ignore the growth which could very well end him.
Because humans can’t feel pain, they look to surgery for pleasure. Humanities current obsessions or fascinations with body modifications aren’t quite to this level, though there is a level of harm that plays into it. Ghouls covered American Mary and body modification the last time we had a New Year, New Me series. In that exploration we found that it’s the motivations behind the modifications that matter the most. If you are changing your outward appearance in an attempt to please an outside force such as the toxic/impossible beauty standards or perhaps a romantic partner, than we highly recommend against it. However, if your modifications are a desire to change your outward appearance to match who you are inside, then absolutely. In the case of the plastic eaters, their motives also seemed beneficial. Imagine what we could do for the environment with some plastic eaters cleaning up the ocean?
For me, Crimes of the Future, is an eco-horror. The grim, dark and prehistoric future is an omen, a warning and also a hope. Though I felt the film was missing exposition and explanation. The world-building felt distant, resting in Cronenberg’s mind somewhere else, leaving us with the whispers of a society. We are made to pick up the pieces and puzzle together a world in which people cannot feel, organs grow willy-nilly, and people eat plastic. An article on Movie Web titled, Crimes of the Future, Explained: Dissecting David Cronenberg's New Movie by Matthew Mahler features an interview with an industrial ecologist, Roland Geyer who explains, "At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet. At some point we will run out of room to put it," and later, Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, explains in the same article, cited. "Some may argue we already have and now it's found in every nook and cranny of our oceans." Mahler goes on to stress the impact of the plastics on humans, saying, “Microplastics are being discovered in everything, from rice to tap water, shellfish to sardines, and in 2018 considerable amounts were found in human feces for the first time. Plastic is showing up in children's blood and in human placenta, which was gross enough to begin with.”
Ultimately, the film felt much like the artistic surgeries of this world, a performance and a warning. It explores the fascinating flaws of evolution while questioning our place in this world. If you can stomach the graphic slices and open-wound make-outs that Cronenbergs loves, then you may find the world fascinating enough to endure. I wish we’d spent more time with one or two of the threads rather than exploring all of them, at times it felt overwhelming to keep up. I couldn’t tell you what the Router and Berst were up to or what the Inner Beauty pageant meant (though its ironic that the inner beauty was still physical, maybe I’m figuring this film out as I write this script, leave me alone). This film is very Cronenberg. And for all its discomfort and moody glimpses into the future, it was oddly hopeful. I’m all for the future of plastic eaters, of our chance to right what we’ve wronged and fix this planet. Let’s see what kind of evolution we can force upon ourselves next.
The Truth About Microplastics: All Over the Planet and Inside Our Bodies by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
What a truly bonkers film.
Also apparently the plastics industry is also bonkers. I watched Climate Town’s video on Plastic Recycling is an Actual Scam, and followed up on some of their research that they linked underneath the video. It was pretty interesting and ultimately just explained in a really entertaining way, that because capitalism exists that unfortunately recycling will only happen until it’s no longer profitable.
The main reason being that we live in a capitalistic system, so what is convenient and cheap will always win within that system. Additionally, most plastic products, especially single use plastic products are more expensive to recycle than they are to dispose of and replace. Meaning that many of the plastics that are created will never be recycled simply because it is not profitable to do so. The end result is that plastics are dumped in landfills, our oceans, and across our planet instead of being recycled, and their impact has lasting damage on our ecosystems. Our ecosystems are adapting to this new environment though which is interesting. A big question however, is will humans adapt?
The production of plastics has an impact on our overall health. The problem mainly being the chemicals added to plastics, and the way in which microplastics spread. There has been research done on the additives to plastic, which are already known for causing illness, infertility, and other issues. Their attachment to plastics is concerning because of how plastics disperse. The way they spread causes them to disperse until they become airborne.
In an article on National Geographic, Microplastics are in our bodies. How much do they harm us? They go into detail on what is impacted by these tiny particles.
“A few years ago, as microplastics began turning up in the guts of fish and shellfish, the concern was focused on the safety of seafood. Shellfish were a particular worry, because in their case, unlike fish, we eat the entire animal—stomach, microplastics and all. In 2017, Belgian scientists announced that seafood lovers could consume up to 11,000 plastic particles a year by eating mussels, a favorite dish in that country.”
This spring, scientists from the Netherlands and the U.K. announced they had found tiny plastic particles in living humans, in two places where they hadn’t been seen before: deep inside the lungs of surgical patients, and in the blood of anonymous donors. Neither of the two studies answered the question of possible harm. But together they signaled a shift in the focus of concern about the plastics toward the cloud of airborne dust particles we live in, some of them so small they can penetrate deep inside the body and even inside cells, in ways that larger microplastics can’t.
The main reason this is concerning is because there is not enough information surrounding the long term impact of plastic on our bodies. We do have evidence that the additives to plastic can cause breathing problems, hormonal disruptions, infertility, and other health concerns. In not knowing and with the rate with which microplastics spread, we may find out too late just how much damage microplastics do. In a Guardian article titled, Microplastics cause damage to human cells, study show The research analysed 17 previous studies which looked at the toxicological impacts of microplastics on human cell lines. The scientists compared the level of microplastics at which damage was caused to the cells with the levels consumed by people through contaminated drinking water, seafood and table salt.
They found specific types of harm – cell death, allergic response, and damage to cell walls – were caused by the levels of microplastics that people ingest.
“Harmful effects on cells are in many cases the initiating event for health effects,” said Evangelos Danopoulos, of Hull York Medical School, UK, and who led the research published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. “We should be concerned. Right now, there isn’t really a way to protect ourselves.”
Future research could make it possible to identify the most contaminated foods and avoid them, he said, but the ultimate solution was to stop the loss of plastic waste: “Once the plastic is in the environment, we can’t really get it out.”
In another article on the Guardian titled, Bugs across globe are evolving to eat plastic, study finds they go through how various bugs, microbes, and other creatures are evolving to eat plastic.
“Microbes in oceans and soils across the globe are evolving to eat plastic, according to a study. The research scanned more than 200m genes found in DNA samples taken from the environment and found 30,000 different enzymes that could degrade 10 different types of plastic.”
If you’re me, you may have initially thought, wow that sounds really complicated, what the heck does that mean? Well, I'm not a scientist. But, the scientist in the article said: “The results “provide evidence of a measurable effect of plastic pollution on the global microbial ecology”, the scientists said”.
Millions of tonnes of plastic are dumped in the environment every year, and the pollution now pervades the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. Reducing the amount of plastic used is vital, as is the proper collection and treatment of waste.
The main issue seems to be that we have not yet found a way to degrade and recycle plastics in a way that is cheaper than creating new plastics. It’s possible that the adaptation of the environment could assist with this, if plastic eating organisms continue to evolve: “Using enzymes to rapidly break down plastics into their building blocks would enable new products to be made from old ones, cutting the need for virgin plastic production. The new research provides many new enzymes to be investigated and adapted for industrial use.”
Either way it seems that the safest option would be to decrease our plastic creation and use, so that no further possible damage is done. The way to do this is to make strides to influence legislation as the government and corporations are the ones in charge of making these plastics at a rate that impacts the planet far more than any individual person.