2022 note: Hey! If you just watched this movie on Hulu, welcome. I answer a lot of questions here but if you have some more, please leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks for reading. -Chris
The Quick Explanation
Crimes of the Future can be overwhelming to figure out when you’re in the details of everything. But when you zoom out, the story is quite simple. It’s about acceptance of the new and tension with the old. You can apply that on the personal level to Saul Tenser’s (Viggo Mortensen) acceptance of his evolving body. Or you can widen out to society and see the battle between traditional and progressive views and the role art plays. That’s it.
So if you wanted the simple answer, there you have it! Go re-watch the movie with that in mind and you’ll see it. Characters mostly fall into the traditional group or the progressive group, with Saul in the middle. The entire story is designed in a way to move Saul from a place of rejecting progress to embracing it. Crimes of the Future ends up being pretty anti-authority, anti-traditions, and politically punk. Out with the old, in with the new.
If you want a longer answer. Let’s get into it, because there’s a good amount to talk about. Let’s start with the ending.
The end of Crimes of the Future explained
The final scene begins with Saul Tenser in his LifeFormWare digestion-assistance chair. He’s attempting to eat dinner. We’ve seem him do this several times throughout the movie and it’s always rough. The chair moves like a row boat on a choppy ocean so Saul constantly rocks about and struggles to bring food to his mouth. But the chair isn’t malfunctioning. It’s designed to react to Saul’s pain. It’s actually a way of for director David Cronenberg to demonstrate to the audience just how much Saul’s in. How much pain he’s been in for every on-screen meal. His attempts to eat actually hurt him. And this last scene is the worst it’s ever been. So much so that he gives up trying.
That’s when Caprice (Léa Seydoux) brings one of Lang Dotrice’s (Scott Speedman) plastic chocolate bars. This is the food favored by the evolutionists—the ones who believe the human body is changing into something designed to consume its environment, to feast upon plastics and the byproducts of an industrialized world. Earlier in the movie, we saw a regular person try and eat one of these bars and they died foaming at the mouth. So this is a risky offer by Caprice. This could be the death of Saul. And they both are aware of this. Either way, this is a moment.
This is why Caprice puts on her ring camera and films. If Saul can’t process the plastic, he’ll perish. And if can, it means he’s an evolved human. According to the government, he’ll no longer be human (medically speaking). Regardless of the outcome, it’s art. A shocking finale or a historic rebirth.
Sure enough, Saul’s bite is transcendent. The chair ceases it’s chaotic rumbling. Saul stops his uncomfortable throat clearing and noise making. He had literally been choking down his food. Now, he relishes the plastic. The compatibility is clear. This is what’s been missing.
It’s at this moment Cronenberg chooses to cut from an omniscient camera view to the ring camera Caprice wears. The shot is black and white and a close up of Saul’s face. We see his clear expression of rapture. And a single tears falls from his eye. That’s how happy he is. That’s how overwhelmed he is. And then the movie ends.
What’s it all mean
As I said in the intro, Crimes of the Future is about acceptance. Saul had been growing new organs and having Caprice cut them out. We’re told this is Saul’s rebellion. That their performance art is about Saul taking control of his body by removing the vestigial organs produced by his accelerated evolution syndrome. Later, you have Lang Dotrice, leader of the pro-evolutionaries, tell Saul that Saul’s only denying himself. This thematic point also explains why the “inner beauties” pageant is part of the story. It might seem unnecessary but it’s relevant to the theme. You have people who are proud of their evolution. Who want to show off these new organs. While Saul hates his evolution. When he talks with the pageant organizer, Wippet (Don McKellar), about the pageant, Wippet, like Lang, makes a statement about acceptance. A statement that Saul humbugs about because he’s still not there yet.
Contrary to Lang and Wippet, you have Detective Cope (Welket Bungué) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart). They’re both more traditionally oriented. Cope is a vice officer who is searching for Lang and the other “plastic eaters” in order to stop the rise of evolved humans. Initially, Saul works with Cope, providing information. But at the end, after Cope has succeeded in foiling Lang’s announcement plans and assassinating him, we see Saul quit being an informant. He no longer wants to help the government. Why? Because he’s grown sympathetic to evolution and admires Lang and Lang’s cause. This break from Cope is a means of showing his break from self-rejection and sets up Saul’s movement towards acceptance. That’s why, soon after, we have the final scene where he eats the candy bar.
The implication, in so far as I understand it, is that Saul will no longer have Caprice remove his newly grown organs. Instead, he’ll let them develop and see what happens. Caprice and others always thought these new organs would be the death of him, no different than a cancer. But Lang disagreed. Maybe, just maybe, the new organs are saving him. The fact that Saul could eat the plastic bar seems to confirm this. He would be the first documented case of someone naturally growing such a digestive system* (we’ll get to Brecken in the next section). You’d imagine the video Caprice shoots with the ring camera will lead into some kind of performance piece that announces to the world what Saul is. Thus, Saul would take Lang’s place as the leader of the evolutionary movement. A true plastic-eater to lead the modified ones into a new tomorrow.
That’s the main narrative implication of the end and the Saul-focused thematic thrust. But we also have to talk about the cut to the ring camera
But wait, there’s more. The black and white shot.
The final cut is a very meta moment because we leave the POV of the omniscient camera and enter the POV of the in-movie camera. That isn’t always a profound choice. I mean, inherently it’s no different than how a movie or TV show might cut to the security camera to show someone walking across a parking lot or down a hotel hallway. But what gives it more thematic weight is how Crimes of the Future focuses so much on performance art. Saul and Caprice are a power-couple in the performance art world. They’re well-known. Acclaimed. Characters who meet them are captivated by them. We see several of their shows and the crowd reaction to their work. But it doesn’t end there. In this future, art is statement. Art is power. Art is sex. Rebellion. Politics. Power. It’s a way to infect people with ideas. That’s why we see several other performance works by other characters, often with Caprice and/or Saul reacting to them. Cronenberg wanted to emphasize how art-focused society has become.
So it’s meaningful when Cronenberg makes the choice to film the final frame from the perspective of Caprice as a filmmaker. It re-frames the moment. Before, it was something personal to Saul. Something we were, as the viewers, privy to. We had special access. But the filming transforms the moment into something that’s public and declarative. It becomes a consumable statement. And we should think about that in a more existential way. Not just in terms of the characters in the movie Crimes of the Future but in terms of art and the relationship I have with it, you have with it, society has with it, etc.
Croenenberg talked about this during a Q&A after a screening of the movie, saying, “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. 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.”
Think about what Croenenberg said and apply it to the last shot of Saul. That moment will be Saul’s declaration to the world that he has evolved into something post-human. It will make him a lightning rod. Some will turn him into the figurehead of the entire evolutionary movement. Others will do everything they can to destroy him. It’s Cronenberg elevating Saul to the level of this ultimate artist. The radical artist who will put his very life on the line for the sake of art and revolution.
Which brings us back around to the title. The government will do anything it can to keep evolutionists quiet. But Caprice and Saul will release the video of him eating the chocolate bar and all hell will break loose. It will be radical art to the extreme. Saul will become the new hero to the evolutionists but enemy #1 to the government. A criminal.
Why is it called Crimes of the Future?
The “crime” of the title refers to evolution of the human anatomy. The government of this world has outlawed the organic evolution of humans. They believe any new biological developments would make someone no longer human. The film demonstrates this in the opening scene with Djuna Dotrice (Lihi Ornowski) and her son Brecken (Sozos Sotiris). Because Brecken can eat plastic, shown to us when he eats the plastic wastebasket, Djuna believes he’s a lizard rather than a person. It’s why she smothers him with the pillow.
Even though Saul and Caprice aren’t committing any crimes at the beginning of the movie—in fact, Saul’s even cooperating with Detective Cope—by the end, Saul is ready to cast his lot with the “criminals” and go pro-evolution.
Who were the LifeFormWare technicians and why did they drill Lang Dotrice?
This is probably the film’s biggest twist. We’re first introduced to Dani (Nadia Litz) and Berst (Tanaya Beatty) when Saul’s sleep machine stops reacting to his pain. The two women appear as nothing more than normal LifeFormWare customer service technicians, there to fix the chair. And they do. A later scene shows Saul peacefully asleep, a contrast to how the machine had previously rumbled and twitched. The women, like most characters in the film, are fascinated by what Saul and Caprice do. They begin to hang around and we think nothing much of it because we’re seeing the National Organ Registry duo of Wippet and Timlin doing the same thing.
The (likely) reality is that Dani and Berst are government agents (likely) working with Detective Cope to take out revolutionary elements. They first eliminate Dr. Nasatir (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos), who is probably one of the surgeons performing the digestive surgeries to Lang Dotrice and crew. This is the doctor who gave Saul the organ window/zipper.
“How do you even know this, Chris?” Good question. It’s based on the last conversation Cope has with Saul. The Brecken autopsy doesn’t go as planned because someone tampered with the body and removed Brecken’s digestive tract before the show. Cope admits it was him. That he had undercover agents that assisted in the organ swap, including Timlin from the National Organ Registry. Given Cope’s mission is to eliminate the evolutionary cell, it seems logical that Dani and Berst were part of the same mission. We don’t know if they were always government agents or were simply blue collar workers recruited for political assassination. One thing is certain, they were legitimate technicians.
There is an alternative argument that has nothing to do with the government or Cope. Instead, they’re just agents of the company. And the company, LifeFormWare, would have the same goals of the government: keep people from evolution. That’s bad for their business as LFW profit from people in pain from the vestigial organs. We see it with Saul, right? When he eats “real” food, he’s in horrible pain. But when he finally eats the chocolate plastic bar, there’s peace.
My only issue with that theory is the film barely mentioned anything about business interests. You’d expect some line of dialogue like “Corporations are just as desperate as the government to maintain the status quo.” But as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing like that. So with the emphasis on government and Cope’s recruitment of Timlin, the most likely answer is Dani and Berst were working with Cope/the government.
What happened with the Brecken autopsy?
The short answer is that Detective Cope compromised the autopsy. He temporarily stole Brecken’s body and Timlin/Kristen Stewart helped him to remove Brecken’s real organs and replace them with fake organs. The two LifeFormWare technicians may also have been involved since they had access to the sarcophagus machine used for the autopsy. All of that means the government successfully stopped Lang Dotrice’s attempt to inform the world of Brecken’s natural evolution. The organs had similar tattoos to the ones Caprice made on Saul’s organs because Timlin was specifically trying to mimic Caprice’s style to make the organs seem a natural part of the Saul/Caprice show.
The long answer:
So Crimes of the Future puts a lot of emphasis on the Brecken autopsy. The movie opens with Brecken, then goes away from him for a long time, before circling back and explaining the child’s significance. He’s the first child born (we assume) with a digestive tract that allows him to naturally consume plastics.
The issue is that many people, including the government, don’t like the idea of anatomical evolution. They view it as no longer being human. That’s why the government has made bodily evolution a crime and is so obsessed with the new organs people are developing, to the point of having a National Organ Registry. But others think this is natural and beautiful and simply a reaction to the modern world. As Lang Dotrice says, we live in this industrial world that’s full of plastic and plastic waste and industrial waste. Why wouldn’t people evolve to process one of the dominate elements surrounding them? If plastics and metals and the like replace plants and animals, isn’t it only natural to consume what’s around us? Why stop that?
Up to this point in society, the vestigial organs growing in people are looked at as bad. You remove them. You turn them in. And the National Organ Registry logs everything. If they’re left inside, who knows what awful thing might happen? And we see this with Saul. He has all these new organs growing and is in constant pain, is, at times, enfeebled. It’s why he wears his ninja outfit—he gets cold because his body is weak from all the organ cultivation. Caprice is even concerned that something bad will happen if Saul doesn’t remove organs right away.
But Brecken represents a counter argument to all of that. He was just a normal little boy who looked just like anyone else. His only difference was eating plastics rather than the “regular” food. He’s evidence that the human body is changing and that the change can be fine. It’s not the awful thing the government thought it was. The goal of the autopsy was to reveal to the world that the government is wrong about evolution. It’s okay to just…see what happens rather than forcefully stopping it.
For the autopsy, Caprice was to open up Brecken then tell the world what she saw, all the while making a performance out of it. That’s why she gives such a dramatic speech at the beginning. She’s setting the stage and is uncertain what she’ll find. Unfortunately, Cope got there first. Working with Timlin and potentially Dani and Berst, they stole Brecken’s body, removed his evolved digestive system, and replaced it with organs probably from the National Organ Registry. Thus the public is none the wiser to Brecken’s true nature as a evolved human. They would think he was internally normal and Lang was lying for clout. At least that’s what Cope hopes the reaction will be. After Dani and Berst drill Lang Dotrice some new head holes, it seems like the evolutionaries might be done for good. They lost their messiah and their leader. But that void is exactly what Saul Tenser will fill. He will become the new messenger. The new “first” evolved human. Which is what we see in the final scenes. Saul ends his arrangement with Cope, choosing revolution over tradition, then eats the plastic bar.
What is the new sex versus the old sex?
This is one of those sections that most people probably don’t need. But I’m sure there’s someone out there who wants to ask the question but might be embarrassed to ask. So, if that person is out there, this one’s for you.
When Timlin traps Saul in her office, stalks him, then kisses him, Saul eventually tells her, “I’m not good at the old sex.” That shouldn’t be surprising. Saul isn’t the most physically healthy person. He can crouch better than almost anyone else in the world. But, for the most part, his constant production of new organs limits him.
Earlier in the film, after Caprice performs surgery on Saul at their show, Timlin mentioned that surgery was the new sex. Which was very evident during the performance art. During the surgery, Caprice and Saul were clearly feeling immense pleasure and connection despite not physically touching. It’s actually something we see throughout the movie. Surgery arouses multiple characters. The LifeFormWare women. Timlin. Caprice. The artist Caprice goes to see. Saul. We even have that scene where Caprice gives Saul a zip job. That’s the new sex. The pleasure isn’t in the traditional stimulation of reproductive organs but in the act of cutting and probing and transgressing.
At the fundamental level, Cronenberg is a filmmaker known for body horror. So having a “new sex” that involves shocking physical elements is just a body horror artist seizing the opportunity to have some sexy body horror. But no one should write it off as merely superficial. It is absolutely part of the movie’s overall theme of tradition vs evolution. A story focused on physical and societal evolution in reaction to the environment should explore the intimate aspects of such change. Otherwise, it’s just a missed opportunity.
If you have any further questions or thoughts, let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!