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by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat

How Caitlin Cronenberg’s debut film deals with climate-related themes

Humane is set in a dystopian, near future, where the government of the United States has chosen a drastic way to resolve the global resources crisis. The story is both horrific and comical and often is borderline to the absurd. It is a disturbing, sometimes even funny, cinematic experience, that helps us to reflect on the risks to continue following demagogues who tell us that the climate crisis is not real.


From what we know, in the future humans have failed to contain the climate crisis and to stop the excessive exploitation of Earth’s resources, and at some point, our planet has stopped being able to sustain the needs of the population. After many years of populism and denialism by the government, especially in the US, it was too late. So, an extreme choice has been made. The government launches a national euthanasia program, encouraging elderly, sick, or poor people to volunteer to be suppressed, to save the planet for the rest of the population. The killings are made by special units, who go home to the person who chose to enlist in the program. A monetary reward is given to the families of people who “sacrifice” themselves, and the dead are celebrated as national heroes by the same government that was responsible for causing the global ecosystem collapse. The main story deals with a rich family, and the problem that emerges when their parents enter the program, but at the last minute the mother changes her mind and runs away. But the “death squad” once called, always needs to bring back the promised bodies…


Recently released Humane (2024) is Caitlin Cronenberg’s first movie, after a career as a photographer and a couple of short films. Caitlin Cronenberg is the daughter of celebrated filmmaker David Cronenberg, whose filmography includes well-known movies such as The Fly (1986), Crash (1996), A History of Violence (2005), and more recently released Crimes of the Future (2022). Her brother, Brandon Cronenberg, has become a filmmaker too and found critical success with his sci-fi body horror movies Possessor (2020) and Infinity Pool (2023). While Ms. Cronenberg is influenced by the style of her father, she nevertheless has been able to find her unique voice inside her family. Her brother extremized the (already high) shock factor of their father’s early movies.


Caitlin seems more interested in the psychological, allegorical, and satirical elements that can be applied to science fiction horror. And she is also interested in dealing with the climate crisis. Her film is way less gory and violent than her dad and brother’s movies, but it is equally shocking in its premise and themes. It occupies a space which is in the middle between a sci-fi horror/thriller and a black comedy. It satirizes the worst of human behavior, but it has also a strong political and environmental message, that reminds us of dystopian classics of the past like Soylent Green (1973).


Humane denounces the climate change denialists and populist parties that are enjoying electoral success in the West these days. Trump and similar figures are never mentioned, but it is clear that the future US administration that has first ignored the resources crisis, and then launched the euthanasia program, is a parody of today’s far-right. The film is also a meditation, through an extreme, almost absurd, metaphor, of what can happen if we continue to ignore the climate crisis and the disaster that can cause to humankind in the future.


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