David Cronenberg on Cannes walkouts and why he’s not a "body horror" filmmaker

Crimes of the Future director David Cronenberg and stars Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux talk about the new film's shocking scenes, including graphic surgery and a dead child, and discuss the rumored walkouts at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Cronenberg also weighs in on why he doesn't agree with his reputation as a "body horror" filmmaker.

Video transcript

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- The world is a much more dangerous place now that pain has all but disappeared.

ETHAN ALTER: So, David, your prediction that there might be some cans walkouts proved correct when this film screened there. Was it strange to see people walking? How did you feel about that when that happened?

DAVID CRONENBERG: Well, in fact, it was slightly misreported.

SCOTT SPEEDMAN: Yes.

DAVID CRONENBERG: And it's kind of my fault because the only one who walked out of the big screening with 2,500 people was me, because I had to have a pee.

SCOTT SPEEDMAN: [LAUGHS]

DAVID CRONENBERG: So the only one who walked out of the movie was the director. The other reporter-- the 15 people who walked out were walking out of the journalists screening. And that is actually quite normal because they walk in and out. Sometimes they're writing on another movie, but they just drop in out of curiosity.

ETHAN ALTER: I can't say I'm disappointed. I actually make the movie for people to stay and watch it. [LAUGHS]

Viggo, it sounds like David was a little off when he thought that there would be massive walkouts at Cannes when the film screened there. There were a few, but not a ton. Do you think the film still has the capacity to shock?

VIGGO MORTENSEN: That's his sense of humor. When he said that, he was joking. He wasn't saying, I want that or trying to provoke you as an enfante terrible, like an artist who's a provocateur. Often, people who are that, there's not much underneath when you comes down to it.

You see the movie. You go, OK, well, there's a few crazy images and some strange dialogue, but what else, you know? With him, it's-- there's much more to it always. It's much more profound. And I think that's his sense of humor.

DAVID CRONENBERG: I was thinking about "Crash," my movie in 1996, which did have a lot of walkouts. I think about a quarter of the audience left.

SCOTT SPEEDMAN: Really?

DAVID CRONENBERG: They were outraged.

SCOTT SPEEDMAN: Wow.

DAVID CRONENBERG: And I thought, well, this-- who knows? Maybe it'll happen again. Because honestly, I never know how the audience is going to react. When people say how-- what do you want the audience to feel or do after they see your movie, and my answer is, I have no idea, really.

ETHAN ALTER: There are some scenes that are intense to watch, for sure. What is the mood like on set when you film those scenes, the cutting into body scenes, particularly?

LEA SEYDOUX: It was quite fun because we know it's fake. We're not really--

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Suffering.

LEA SEYDOUX: Suffering or--

VIGGO MORTENSEN: We were only suffering because it was so hot.

LEA SEYDOUX: --or scared. Yeah. No, I was just scared when I saw the body of Brecken--

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Yeah, that was--

LEA SEYDOUX: --the boy. That was a bit like--

VIGGO MORTENSEN: It was so real-looking.

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah, that was very real and shocking.

ETHAN ALTER: For the scene with the boy, it is shocking to see, because it does look so lifelike. I mean, did you-- were you actually cutting into it? Was there stuff inside him? Or were there different models that were used for that whole scene?

VIGGO MORTENSEN: They did eventually do that. But I think-- I mean, I remember when-- it probably helped for the scene, helped you maybe-- when we go to see the father of Brecken, and he's got the kid--

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah. It's the last thing we shot.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Right. Well, the operation was--

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: --disturbing.

LEA SEYDOUX: But-- yeah.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: When he's lying there so peacefully, he looked like a-- it looked like a real person there.

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: When we first see him lying there, there was something really--

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah, shocking.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: --disturbing. The crew was very quiet. I remember it was kind of like--

LEA SEYDOUX: Yeah.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: You know it's not real, but it really seems so.

ETHAN ALTER: David, this feels to me like your comment on contemporary culture, where we are right now in terms of the idea of consuming plastic and things like that. I mean, when you think about where we are in real life, is it more horrifying to you than what you can imagine on screen? Do you look at real life as being scarier?

DAVID CRONENBERG: I don't think I know what real life is, so it might be difficult for me to comment. [LAUGHS] Right now, I have no idea what city I'm in.

SCOTT SPEEDMAN: [LAUGHS]

DAVID CRONENBERG: But basically, I'm making a kind of proposal to the audience. I'm saying, OK, let's say that we're destroying the Earth. And partly we're destroying it with plastics. So what do we do with that? Well, there are a couple of things.

We can get rid of plastics and clean the ocean and clean everybody's body. We're now finding microplastics in our bloodstream. Or we could say, what if we could eat plastic? What if we could actually use it for something and, therefore, it was actually a positive thing, rather than a negative thing?

That would have involve the human body to change to-- so that it could process a plastics. And because there are bacteria that can actually eat plastic, if it can eat plastic, why not us? So this is my proposal. And I accept that it might be satirical. It might be absurd. But I ask my characters to take it seriously.

ETHAN ALTER: How do you feel your approach to horror has changed over the years and commenting on body horror, in particular? Has your approach that change, visualizing?

DAVID CRONENBERG: The term body horror is not my term. I wouldn't describe my work that way at all. And also I don't differentiate for so-called horror films from any other film, basically. Honestly, I-- the question of genre, for me, is a marketing question or maybe a critics' question.

But it's not a creative question. It doesn't-- once again, it doesn't give me anything to help me make the movie better or to make the movie at all. So I'm not thinking about genre. I don't think of "Crimes of the Future" as any different from "A Dangerous Method," which was a biopic about Freud and Jung, or "Cosmopolis," which was based on a Don DeLillo novel. It's the same for me, the same work for me.

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