David Cronenberg's 1970 No Budget student film, Crimes of the Future is run silent with the protagonist narrator doing a voiceover much like his previous film Stereo, except with the footage all shot in full vivid color. The rather sparse plot follows the strange experiences of one Adrian Tripod, Director of a former dermatological clinic for wealthy clients known as the House of Skin, as he travels around visiting various colleagues, employees, and clients of other nearby institutions. The previous Director was a mad dermatologist named Antoine Rouge who'd been studying the disease named after him that has killed very nearly all of the world's women, Rouge's Malady; after contracting a case of it himself (though he insisted it could not possibly be fatal to him), Rouge allegedly went into exile at some unknown location to die, leaving Adrian in charge.
After the House of Skin's one remaining client seemingly contracts a case of Rouge's Malady (causing him to secrete a mysterious substance Adrian and his interns refer to as Rouge's Foam) and disappears just as mysteriously as Rouge himself did, Adrian takes us with him on an odd journey through such organizations as the Institute of Neo-Venereal Disease, the Oceanic Podiatry Group, and the Corporation Metaphysical Import-Export, narrating his adventures in a kind of pseudo-documentary style. Along the way, he meets many odd personalities such as a former colleague who's contracted some strange kind of "creative cancer" that constantly causes him to grow numerous complete new organs with unknown functions, a foot massage therapist who's made an almost religious ritual out of his occupation, a man with a little bit of webbing on his feet, and a doctor with a number of dark glass spheres to which he claims to have an empathic attachment. Finally, Adrian meets two men he believes to be "heterosexual pedophiles" at the Gynaecological Research Foundation who've imported a little girl at great expense that they wish for him to join them in attempting to impregnate.
Put mildly, this Mind Screw of a film deals with some rather transgressive concepts; yet on the whole, it's more hypnotic and surreal than particularly offensive to the viewer's senses and sensibilities. Being highly experimental and only having been released to the public long after it was made along with other better known works, it has no apparent point to make, but does provide David Cronenberg's fans with some perspective on how he developed the skills and distinctive style that made so many of his later works so memorably offbeat.
This movie contains examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguously Gay: The absence of women is definitely shown to be taking its mental toll on the men, but it's not clear this necessarily means they've started focusing their sexuality on each other. Adrian Tripod himself is shown licking the "pathological fluids" of Rouge's Malady from his client's face at one point, but suggests in his narrative that the fluids themselves are what he finds attractive rather than the client.
- Body Horror: Fairly mild examples compared to some of David Cronenberg's later works, but the organs removed from Adrian's colleague with the "creative cancer" at the Institute of Neo-Venereal Disease and an odd tendril growing out of the nostril of a hotel concierge Adrian meets later might qualify, as might the bizarre secretions Rouge's Malady is shown to produce from its carriers/victims.
- Dull Surprise: Everyone in the film the majority of the time, apart from rare expressive outbursts of emotion; so much so that the audience may find this mood infectious.
- Flat "What": The girl's reaction during the first alleged pedophile's Rage Quit; as in, "Sheesh, what's his problem?"
- Foot Focus: A foot massage therapist from the Oceanic Podiatry Group includes a quasi-religious version of this in his bizarre life's philosophy, and teaches it to Adrian as part of training him to do foot massage therapy as well.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: Look carefully at one of the little girl's scribblings a doctor is shown holding in one scene, and you'll learn that her name is Tania. (The actress playing her is in fact Tania Zolty.)
- Gainax Ending: Once Adrian is stripped down to just his trousers, the little girl produces some of Rouge's Foam... or is it Adrian who does that? The narrator then tells us "Adrian Tripod senses the presence of Antoine Rouge." Roll credits.
- Gendercide: Rouge's Malady, which apparently originated from defective cosmetic products... somehow... has wiped out all girls and women past the age of puberty. Even the little girl the alleged pedophile subversives have procured may no longer be immune, as they claim to have risked inducing premature puberty in her so that she can be impregnated.
- Gory Discretion Shot: What happens to the gunman with No Social Skills guarding the Gynaecological Research Foundation's lobby... if that was a rare violent moment in this film we were seeing. Adrian does get a few drops of reddish stuff on his face, but that might be one of the aforementioned "pathological fluid" secretions we've seen on other victims/carriers of Rouge's Malady rather than blood.
- Mistaken for Pedophile: Played for Drama in a rather odd way: Adrian's assessment of the two men who procured the little girl was apparently a bit premature, as the one is shown getting exasperated at being unable to work up any arousal to impregnate her and violently scattering the girl's stuff before storming out. Then, though he's a rather late addition to their plan, the two men insist on sending Adrian in next, suggesting the other one of them wasn't able to work up any interest in doing the deed himself either. As for Adrian, he gets as far as removing everything but his trousers before claiming to be suddenly feeling the presence of Antoine Rouge. Then the film ends; exactly what's going to happen next, if anything, isn't clear.
- Have You Seen My God?: This seems to be one of Adrian Tripod's motivations in a Crystal Dragon Jesus way as he keeps feeding the audience the history of his mysterious mentor and predecessor Antoine Rouge in his narration while occasionally asking the other men he encounters about him as well. According to Adrian, a number of people "in high places" were opposed to Rouge's ascendency from the start; the official belief in these high places (which he initially shares) is that Rouge has died and therefore no longer exists; but the only confirmation for this belief comes from those who wish it to be so. At the end, Adrian claims to sense his presence; possibly because he is Antoine Rouge and has simply forgotten after suffering a psychotic break?
- Oddly Small Organization: Though he mentions it used to be bigger, the House of Skin currently consists entirely of Adrian himself, two interns, and a client. Only one or two representatives for each of the other impressively named institutions Adrian mentions in his narration ever show up on-screen.
- Only You Can Repopulate My Race: The reason for procuring the little girl "at great expense from a great distance across several most contentious borders." The men can't exactly do the job themselves, though some of their more bizarre theories have them holding out hope they might evolve this ability someday. It doesn't look like the little girl's going to be able to help them much with this either, however, even if they ever do work out some way to overcome their consciences and bypass their complete lack of sexual desire for her.
- Sanity Slippage: As mentioned, the lack of women seems to have taken its toll on everyone Adrian meets, considering their bizarre behavior.
- Scenery Porn: A lot of it indoors, oddly enough. David Cronenberg shot a lot of this film in and around some rather impressively futuristic-looking works of modern architecture.
- Separated by a Common Language: Adrian repeatedly admits to not being able to make sense of some of the things the people he meets are saying, and states "It is difficult to recall so many dialects when one has remained so long in isolation."
- Sex Slave: Disturbingly, the little girl who looks to be no more than five years old, whom Adrian describes as "our strange, unfathomable captive." None of her captors actually seems to be able to work up enough perverse libido to carry out their plan to impregnate her, however.
- Techno Babble: Adrian's highly technical descriptions of the various philosophies and theories his colleagues are promoting to him don't actually seem to mean anything on closer analysis; either because he misunderstands what they're saying in their specific dialects, or possibly because his colleagues have gone insane and what they're saying really doesn't mean anything.
- Third-Person Person: Adrian Tripod does this a bit in his narrative, as in "Adrian Tripod is to be directly introduced to the subject of his study."
- Through the Eyes of Madness: At no time does our narrator Adrian demonstrate any compelling reason to believe he's kept very much better of a grasp on his sanity than anyone else.
- Too Important to Walk: The Liason Officer of the Gynaecological Research Foundation rolls himself around in a wheelchair when alone, apparently suffering from an irrational fear that otherwise his feet may suddenly give out on him at some time when no one in the sparsely populated Foundation is around to rescue him.
- Unreliable Narrator: Considering his dubious sanity and that his is the only interpretation of the events we're seeing that we're getting from his narrative voiceover, we in the audience can't really be sure of anything Adrian Tripod tells us.