David Cronenberg is known for being a body horror aficionado. It’s been 8 years since directing his last film and all of his pent up artistic juices are poured into this one. He’s revisiting this title which was used for his first feature in 1970. The film received a 6-minute standing ovation at its premiere in Cannes this year, but there were also people who walked out.
Here, he creates a provocative vision of a disturbing dystopian world of the future where humans are evolving with some very frightening mutations and side effects. The opening scene is of a young boy on a rocky beach with a capsized cruise ship in the bay. We then see him munching on his afternoon snack while his disgusted mother looks on. He’s bitting off pieces of a plastic waste bucket. That’s our first food for thought.
Writer/Director Cronenberg is known for the films Slasher, The Fly, Shivers, the Friday the 13th TV series and Crash. We know to expect grotesque images, and there is no dearth of them here. He structures the film like a noir detective caper. The pace is almost painfully slow for the first third of the movie, but pay attention. Clues dropped in the beginning will come into play when the pace picks up later. Cronenberg injects satire to take on where our world could be headed incorporating pointed references to climate change, genetic mutations, how people eat, live and love.
Here, humans have found a way to eliminate pain and entertain themselves in bizarre ways to feel emotions. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a performance artist like you’ve never seen before. His skill is entirely internal. Saul’s body can consistently and magically generate new internal body parts. Are they organs? Do they serve a purpose? He has other afflictions. He is constantly clearing his throat and has trouble breathing.
Performing partner, Caprice, (Léa Seydoux) is a tattoo artist who cuts him open on a moving table. She makes her mark on each organ, then takes it out of him to put on display to the oohs and aahhs of the audience. Cutting someone open while they are living and breathing its shown to be an erotic experience. “Surgery is the new sex.” But there’s even a graphic autopsy performed on a young boy. Cutting people, dead or alive, seems to be in vogue here.
Kirsten Stewart plays a very strange character in this futuristic noir detective story. Timlin is an employee of the National Organ Registry dedicated to tracking the emerging new species of human being let loose in the world. But she’s also thrilled and titillated by Saul Tenser and his unique talents. She’s in awe of him. Stewart’s performance is an amalgam of awkward timidity and longing for Saul. He’s almost like a Biblical character, almost always wearing a hooded cloak and covering his face.
There are a few more characters who will get your attention. There is the dancing man with his faced stitched up and little human ears all over his head and body. Then there are two young, attractive robo-bed technicians who keep keep turning up, finally ending up, unexplainably, for a naked romp together in a bed.
The color palate that cinematographer Douglas Koch uses is always dark, hued blue, foreboding and unrelenting when he shows the surrealistic abnormal episodes of Tenser’s body being opened as performance art. Production Designer (Carol Spier) didn’t have much to do as the set is mostly a bunch of grungy rock formations and buildings. There is not much in the way of furniture or anything else, except the skeletal chairs jerking Saul to and fro as he and others eat, we surmise, to help swallow their purées of mush. No one seems to be bothered about transmissible diseases or even personal hygiene because no one gets sick in this filthy future. It was shot in Greece, but it’s no enticement to go there.
The plot is clearly confounding. The visuals are stark, dull, and disgusting. Everything is low key, quiet, dark and ominous with little explanation and no story lines are ever complete. We were enticed by the path he put us on, but the crime is that Cronenberg’s future led us to nowhere
Neon. 1 hour and 47 minutes R
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