David Cronenberg Approaches Directing In The Most Cronenbergian Way Imaginable

Watching a David Cronenberg film can be a visceral experience. Though Cronenberg's three previous collaborations with Viggo Mortensen, "A History of Violence," "Eastern Promises," and "A Dangerous Method," have seen him working in a more mainstream mode, their latest, "Crimes of the Future," has the 79-year-old director returning to his body horror roots, having lost none of his edge.

When "Crimes of the Future" made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, there were reports of walkouts, and Cronenberg himself said he expected as much due to the movie's graphic content. The plot, per the official trailer synopsis, involves Mortensen's "celebrity performance artist," Saul Tenser, publicly showcasing "the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances." Léa Seydoux plays his partner, Caprice, and Kristen Stewart plays Timlin, "an investigator from the National Organ Registry," who "obsessively tracks their movements."

With names like Tenser and Caprice, which sound as much like descriptions of mood or character traits, it's a safe bet the actors might have had some questions for Cronenberg about their motivation and whatnot on the set of "Crimes of the Future." However, Cronenberg told Variety that he was looking for more intuitive performances from them and he "really didn't care" if they understood the story's meaning. As he put it:

"You cast brilliant actors who are just right for the role, and it doesn't matter if they think they don't know what they're doing. I've had many actors say, 'I don't know what the f*** I'm doing.' And I say, 'yeah, you just keep doing that.' I really want to see what the actors' intuition is and what the actor brings."

'We don't intellectualize'

Cronenberg's "eXistenZ," which hit theaters only a few weeks after "The Matrix" back in 1999, is one example of a film of his that stimulates the intellect, with its similar ideas of multiple levels of reality — some real, others virtual. For "Crimes of the Future," though, Cronenberg wanted to take a more spontaneous approach on the set with his actors. It seems that he was looking for them to listen and react, not so much think, or just work it out for themselves what the film's meaning was supposed to be (much like the characters in the trailer, filling bodies that are "empty of meaning" with some of that for themselves). "We don't have discussions, we don't rehearse, we don't intellectualize," he said in his interview with Variety. "When I see what happens on the set, unless there's something that everybody thinks has gone off the rails, I don't say anything."

In the same way that bodily needs pull us out of our own heads sometimes, it makes sense that Cronenberg's brand of body horror might resist intellectualization. Not having discussions on set also very much jibes with the ethos put forth in the first teaser for "Crimes of the Future," with its voiceover stating, "It is time to stop speaking. It is time to listen."

That voiceover also says, "It is time to stop seeing," but if you want to see "Crimes of the Future," it's in theaters now.