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People walked out of Kristen Stewart’s new movie at Cannes, but controversy sells cinema seats


By Sarah Finnan
01st Jun 2022

IMDb

People walked out of Kristen Stewart’s new movie at Cannes, but controversy sells cinema seats

Attendees at this year's Cannes Film Festival were reportedly up in arms over the graphic nature of Kristen Stewart’s new movie… but it's not the first time a walkout has happened at the festival, and it definitely won't be the last either. Controversy is what gets bums on cinema seats, after all.

Kristen Stewart’s new movie Crimes of the Future is the latest victim of a Cannes walkout, upsetting some festival-goers with its gory content and graphic close-ups. 

Directed by David Cronenberg, the movie marks his return to the science fiction and horror genres for the first time in two decades. Telling the tale of how the body undergoes new transformations and mutations as the human species adapts to a synthetic environment, Stewart stars as Timlin, a self-described “bureaucratic insect”-turned-rogue underground plastic surgeon. 

“Surgery is the new sex” Stewart’s character proclaims at one point and the film is characterised by an obsession with extremely explicit visuals of internal organs and autopsies and characters who orgasm by licking each other’s open wounds. It’s provocative, to say the least – an uncomfortable, yet compelling watch. 

Arguably one of the most polarising movies to show at this year’s festival, it caused quite the reaction amongst attendees and some were so shocked by what they saw that they felt they had no choice but to leave the premiere altogether. 

Stewart didn’t seem phased by the public’s aversion to what they saw onscreen though. “Everyone loves to talk about how his movies are difficult to watch and it’s fun to talk about people walking out of Cannes screenings,” she told Insider after the premiere. In fact, Cronenberg’s extremely graphic existentialism is what drew Stewart to work with him in the first place. 

“I told him I have no idea what this movie is about, but I’m so curious and maybe we can just figure it out,” she admitted. “We, the actors, spent every single day after work being like, ‘What the f*ck are we doing?’ But then I watched the movie last night and it was so crystal clear to me. It was so exposing, and it does feel like you’re hacking up organs when you’re making something, and if it doesn’t feel that way it’s not worth it,” she continued. 

Admittedly a big fan of his work, Stewart said that she couldn’t believe her luck at getting to collaborate with Cronenberg on this particular project. “Every single gaping, weird bruise in his movies, it makes my mouth open,” she commented. “You wanna lean in toward it and it never repulses me, ever. The way I feel, it is through really visceral desire and that’s the only reason we’re alive. We’re pleasure sacks.”

Viggo Mortensen, Scott Speedman, Kristen Stewart, and Léa Seydoux, photo via IMDb

Six years ago, Stewart’s film Personal Shopper was jeered during its premiere at the French film festival. The next day it received a standing ovation from the audience. Such is the temperamental nature of Cannes… it adds to the theatre of the affair. The same happened with Crimes of the Future; as one contingent exited stage left, another stayed to the end, giving the film a seven-minute standing ovation at its close. “I’m very touched by your response,” Cronenberg reportedly said after the ovation. “I hope you’re not kidding, I hope you mean it.”

The director has a “rollercoaster history” with Cannes as Variety puts it. Back in 1996, his movie Crash caused similar upheaval, with its portrayal of the strange lure of car crashes and the human tendency to eroticise death. Viewers booed the film and stormed out of the theatre. Even jury president Francis Ford Coppola said that some jurors “abstained very passionately” to the decision to award Crash a special jury prize for “its audacity, daring and originality”. Response to his 2014 movie Maps to the Stars was more positive, with the festival’s best actress prize going to lead Julianne Moore. 

However, Cronenberg is well attuned to the divisive nature of his work, and actually predicted that Crimes of the Future would spark a lot of walkouts. “I do expect walkouts in Cannes, and that’s a very special thing,” he noted. “There are some very strong scenes. I mean, I’m sure that we will have walkouts within the first five minutes of the movie. I’m sure of that.”

“I wasn’t saying that everybody will walkout,” he later clarified. “The audience in Cannes is a very strange audience. It’s not a normal audience. 

“A lot of people are just there for the prestige or for the red carpet. And they’re not cinephiles. They don’t know my films. So they might be walkouts, whereas a normal audience would have no problem with the movie. So who knows? But certainly, a lot of people walked out when we showed Crash,” he recalled. 

As Cronenberg pointed out, the audience at Cannes is quite varied and the festival has come to be as famous for its walkouts as it is for its red carpet moments as a result. Other movies to have caused considerable controversy in the festival’s over 70-year existence include The House That Jack Built (the balcony of the theatre was reportedly half empty by the time the end credits had stopped rolling), The Brown Bunny (dubbed “the worst film in the history of Cannes” by one critic) and Irréversible amongst others. 

Even the likes of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and David Lynch’s 1990 romantic crime movie Wild at Heart – two uber-successful movies – garnered some criticism, which goes to show that walkouts aren’t necessarily an accurate depiction of how the film will do once it’s been released out into the world. 

Crimes of the Future may not win the Palme d’Or, but it’s certainly got people talking and, ultimately, that’s what gets bums on cinema seats.