David Cronenberg is no stranger to controversy. A number of his earlier films unequivocally invited it. Indeed, much of the seasoned filmmaker’s work, particularly his extensive catalogue of horror classics, were developed with the implicit purpose of evoking a visceral response from the audience. There is, of course, a deeper thematic meaning behind much of Cronenberg’s work in horror, but it nonetheless somehow feeds into his perpetually creative depictions of bodily desecration.
While his work in the 21st century has been relatively tame by comparison – likely because he has focused primarily on dramas and thrillers that were more cerebral than they were outwardly visceral – it seems that Cronenberg, by his own admission, will once again court controversy at the Cannes Film Festival with the screening of his latest picture, Crimes of the Future.
The festival is not set to commence until tomorrow, May 17th, but if the recently released red band trailer for Crimes of the Future, which I covered last week, is any indication, Cronenberg’s claim that there will be walkouts in the first five minutes is anything but a promotional bluff. The filmmaker told Deadline, “There are some very strong scenes. I mean, I’m sure that we will have walkouts within the first five minutes of the movie. I’m sure of that”, which is a particularly telling statement coming from the same man who made features such as Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly. He consequently elaborated that the final twenty minutes could elicit more walkouts, with one viewer telling him that he almost had a panic attack during that final stretch. Most filmmakers would be alarmed by audiences walking out on their pictures, but not Cronenberg, who seemingly derives a curious satisfaction from viewers – or, more specifically, Cannes viewers – walking out, saying “I do expect walkouts in Cannes, and that’s a very special thing. [Laughs] People always walk out, and the seats notoriously clack as you get up, because the seats fold back and hit the back of the seat. So, you hear clack, clack, clack.” It’s almost as if Cronenberg is admitting, with a quiet glee, that if he has done his job right, then there will be walkouts. Interestingly enough, as hinted above, Cronenberg is no stranger to controversy at Cannes, evidenced by the screening of his film Crash in 1996.
Cronenberg even contemplates such a comparison in his Deadline interview, saying, “Whether they’ll be outraged the way they were with Crash, I somehow don’t think so. They might be revulsed to the point that they want to leave, but that’s not the same as being outraged.” His delineation between being outraged as opposed to revulsed is key here, as Crash was controversial for its core subject matter more than its onscreen violence (though it is hardly lacking in that department), but its merits were enough that it earned the Special Jury Prize, which is something that the judges panel only offer in recognition of special achievements in cinema and is by no means an annual award. As it happens, Crash to this day is the last picture to win the award, and one could argue that the contentiousness of this selection is part of the reason why it has not been awarded since, Francis Ford Coppola, who was a judge that voted in favour of Crash at the time, noting that certain jury members “did abstain very passionately”. Personally, I find Crash to be one of Cronenberg’s most accomplished thrillers and holds up even better today than it did in the 1990s.
Ultimately, we won’t know how audiences respond to Crimes of the Future until its official Cannes screening, but if David Cronenberg’s own words are anything to go by, it is sure to make waves in a manner that will have diehard fans eagerly awaiting the latest release from Canada’s undisputed master of horror.