THE FIRST THING I ASK David Cronenberg about is the abdomens. The Canadian writer-director, who has been described as the “Godfather of Body Horror” by some and “beyond the bounds of depravity” by others, has made nearly two dozen movies since 1975. Almost half of them feature somebody reaching into their own stomach cavity to pull out an object, shoving items into their stomach, reacting in abject shock as something explodes forth from their stomach, or having their stomach torn open and emptied by a malevolent entity. In his latest film, Crimes of the Future, which premiered at Cannes, the stomachs are the whole point: The movie takes place in a dystopia in which everyone is doing surgery on one another for fun, sensually slicing into torsos to gaze at, lick, and sometimes yank out the organs therein.
When I meet the 79-year-old director on the terrace of a French hotel room the day before the film’s festival premiere, I want to know, What happened to his own body to make him so obsessed with stomachs?
“I’ve had a couple of hernia operations,” he says from behind a pair of sunglasses that match his head-to-toe black outfit, topped off with a baseball hat for his 1999 film eXistenZ, about plugging the other side of one’s torso into a video-game console.“Nothing more exotic than that, I’m afraid.” He apologizes for the sunglasses—he’s “finding it very bright.” He got them for free on an earlier trip to Cannes but wasn’t able to wear them until recently, when, as he puts it, he had “plastic lenses” put into his eyes to replace his need for a prescription (“I am bionic, there’s no question”). For Cronenberg, a man who has never gone to therapy because, he says, “my parents were really sweet,” the anatomical fixation is mostly an issue of logistics. “If you want to get into somebody’s heart, you have to crack their ribs apart and everything,” he says. “If you want to get into somebody’s body, this is where you would naturally go.”
Cronenberg has been poking and prodding and exploding and decapitating and mutating the human form for the entirety of his film career, which has somehow still brought him to the genre-shy Festival de Cannes six times. On his first go-round, in 1996, Cronenberg scandalized the Croisette with Crash, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel about people who are sexually aroused by car accidents. Audience members walked out in droves; critics called him “perverse” and “sexually deviant”; the Cannes jury, split on the film’s merits and egged on by its president, Francis Ford Coppola, refused to award him the Palme d’Or and instead gave him a Special Jury Prize “for originality, for daring, and for audacity,” which still manages to sound like a neg. When I tentatively bring up the ordeal, thinking it might be a sore spot, Cronenberg laughs like someone recalling a wild night out in college. “There were 500 crazed journalists wanting to kill me and saying I should be put in jail and all my cast should be executed,” he says, sipping his cappuccino. “I was thrilled!”
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