Q&A: Cronenberg on Bodies, Death, and the Future of Cinema
CANNES, France — David Cronenberg is sitting on a balcony when a screaming seagull flies overhead.
“Full of plastic, that bird,” Cronenberg said, smiling.
The 79-year-old Canadian author has long been fascinated by what’s in our bodies and what we put in them. His latest film, “Crimes of the Future,” which hits theaters Friday, stems in part from his interest in the ubiquity of microplastics.
Cronenberg, who sat down for a recent interview at the Cannes Film Festival where “Crimes of the Future” premiered, first wrote the screenplay for the film in 1998. Feeling it had only become more relevant, Cronenberg unearthed him for his first film in eight years, and, he says, didn’t change a word.
It revolves around the couple of performers Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux). In a near future where plastics have changed human biology, they artfully remove Tenser’s tumor organs in surgical performances. It co-stars Kristen Stewart as a bureaucrat turned superfan after attending a performance.
Art as a sliced up and exposed organ is an apt metaphor for Cronenberg, whose early films (“Videodrome,” “The Fly”) made him a master of body horror. The director is simultaneously auctioning an NFT of his recently passed kidney stones. Mortensen, who starred in Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” “Eastern Promises” and “A Dangerous Method,” calls “Crimes of the Future” Cronenberg’s most autobiographical film.
“Every time I watch one of his movies,” Mortensen says, “I see more.”
For Cronenberg, the layers of “Crimes of the Future” were a way to probe both the nature of being an artist and the ways in which our increasingly unnatural environment transforms our bodies – not to mention the seagulls. It’s a development that doesn’t scare but enthuses Cronenberg, who marvels at how scientists are already working to find out if plastics could be made edible – and maybe even taste good.
“It’s happening,” he says. “It’s not science fiction anymore.”
AP: Has your relationship to your body changed with age?
CRONENBERG: Oh, sure. Usually consternation, but it’s not that bad. It’s very interesting. It’s a part of life that you anticipated and read about and blah, blah, now you experience it. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, let’s put it that way. I am 79 years old. I don’t feel that age at all.
AP: Do you take care of yourself?
CRONENBERG: I’ve been lifting weights since I was 16. Not to be a bodybuilder, but just to stay in shape. I do not smoke. I dont drink. Not outside any political or sociological agenda. I have never been attracted to these things. Maybe that helps.
AP: So you think about what you put in your body?
CRONENBERG: Not obsessively.
AP: A lot of your work is about the connection or disconnection between the body and the world around it. Over the years that you’ve been making movies, technology has increasingly entered our bodies, even if it’s not a videotape in our chests.
CRONENBERG: Well, I just had cataract surgery. Now that’s amazing. Basically, they destroy your eye lenses, suck them out, and then put on plastic lenses that unfold and become your eyes. I’ve looked through my lenses for my entire career as a filmmaker. And now the reason I wear sunglasses is that I have more light in my eyes because of the disappearance of cataracts. Everything is brighter. The colors are different, quite different. I joked with my cinematographer that we’ll have to recolor the whole film now that I have different lenses in my eyes. It’s quite intimate. The technology in your eyes. I have hearing aids. I’m totally bionic. Years ago, this would all be problematic. My career would have ended much sooner because if you can’t hear and you can’t see, it’s hard to make movies, you know?
AP: Can you imagine what we can do to our bodies, and what will be deemed acceptable, will only increase over time?
CRONENBERG: Absolutely. We now realize that just drinking water from a plastic bottle deposits microplastics in our bloodstream. Even before that, it was postulated that perhaps 80% of the human population had microplastics in their flesh. So our bodies are different from what human bodies have ever been before in history. It’s not going to go away.
AP: Do you foresee battles over things like computers implanted in our brains?
CRONENBERG: There’s a Nobel laureate by the name of Gerald Edelman who said that the brain is not like a computer at all. It’s much more like a rainforest because there’s a struggle for dominance in your brain with your neurons constantly changing. The thing people are afraid of with mRNA because it’s new and they say Bill Gates is inserting microchips into our bodies, that’s fantastic! It’s such a breakthrough. CRISPR is fantastic. Now, can it be used for evil? Well, yes, like the atomic bomb. But beautiful things are absolutely possible from there.
AP: By presenting “Crimes of the Future”, do you have the impression of presenting an organ?
CRONENBERG: (Laughs) I present my kidney stones to the public. I say “It comes from inside my body.” How could it be more intimate? Yeah, I mean, that’s the metaphor. It’s the metaphor of the surgical organ in the film, an artist expressing his innermost thoughts, feelings and visions and everything in between. Clearly, you are vulnerable. You are incredibly vulnerable.
AP: This is your first film in eight years. What do you think of how the cinematic landscape has changed?
CRONENBERG: One of the things that brought me back to cinema was Netflix and the idea of streaming and a streaming series. I tried to make one. I thought to myself, well, it’s not really cinema, but it’s cinema nonetheless. It’s a different kind of cinema, seriously different. I thought, well, that’s a whole different ball game, and yet it’s still cinema. I mean, my idea of cinema. I think theaters are dead. I think they will be a niche for superhero movies. I haven’t been to the cinema for decades. You know, I just prefer to watch it at home. And TVs have gotten so good, sound systems have gotten so good that I challenge anyone who says you can’t have a true cinematic experience at home. I absolutely disagree.
AP: “Crimes of the Future” depends in part on how far Saul Tenser is willing to go for his art. Do you think a lot about death?
CRONENBERG: I’ve always thought about death. I don’t think you can be a human being without thinking about death. Ever since I was a kid and a pet died, you think, what happened? Where is this cat? You realize that not only are you going to die, but your parents are going to die. I still remember when I had this discussion with my parents. So it’s always a question. At my age, I wouldn’t say that’s more of a question, except you have a lot of friends who are dying now, who are exactly your age. Every time I look in the papers, there’s a guy I used to know—William Hurt, for example, or Ivan Reitman—and they’re younger than me. You can’t do much more than recognize that, yes, you’re going to die. Beyond that, what can you say? I always thought in the novels where it would be written for a living author “Born in 1943…”. It’s as if the dashboard is waiting for you. It is waiting for you to be filled. And I say: “(Expletive) you, I am not going to die. I’m not going to tell you when I’m going to die.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP