Original release: May 25th, 2012
Running time: 109 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: David Cronenberg, Don DeLillo
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand
The very best films, the ones we tend to really love, inspire a blend of enjoyment and admiration. We feel the thrills of the plot whilst enjoying the acting, or the camerawork. In addition to this we’re often able to relate to the core values of the piece; extrapolating, correctly or not, the filmmaker’s themes and objectives. Their point. On occasion, however, a film’s credits roll up the screen and we find ourselves confounded by something that was utterly engrossing, but at the same time, bewildering. And so to Cosmopolis.
In the year 2012. A Day in November. Having missed its initial release in UK cinemas back in June, I was coming to the movie late. I know this. I enjoy David Cronenberg’s films and intended to take the time to check out this one. A noir-ish, sci-fi-esque, existential drama set entirely in a limousine seems right up my street. For some reason, I just hadn’t made that additional effort. I never rearranged that one evening.
I found myself sat at home, on an otherwise unoccupied Saturday evening, with the DVD release imminent. A free couple of hours were stretching out in front of me, so I decided to catch up with it. By the following Tuesday I’d been and purchased Don DeLillo’s source novel and I’d watched the film again. By Thursday I’d written this review. It seems Cosmopolis got under my skin. I know this.
The film, and DeLillo’s novel of the same name, sees 28-year-old multi-billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) taking a painstakingly slow trip through New York. He wants a haircut and, despite a presidential visit to the city causing gridlock, intends to slink across town in his white stretch limo to his old barber’s. It’s a hell of day for it, though, as his company’s forecasts on the Yuan were off and he’s haemorrhaging millions. So he takes multiple business meetings, personal calls, and doctors appointments; all in the back of his custom car.
He does step out, every now and then, for air and meals with his new wife, Elise (Sarah Gadon). They remain distant despite his forthright advances and the car continues edging through the city. As the day wares on, it becomes clear there’s a substantiated threat to Eric’s life – conveyed to him by his head of security, Torval (Kevin Durand) – and at the same time an ‘Occupy’ style protest descends into riots around them. And that is just what is happening, not how.
Fully embracing the style of the source material, Cosmopolis is an utterly distancing and at times, plain weird affair. Whether this is in its sharp visuals, its stilted and strange dialogue delivery, its vignette structure, its purposely unrealistic CGI or its obscured meanings, we’re not being pulled in but forced away. This really struck me throughout both viewings and is, I think, central to setting up the character of Eric Packer right from the start.
Disguised behind his dark glasses, and spouting esoteric pseudo-intellectual philosophy, Robert Pattinson is magnetic as the young billionaire (much to my surprise). As he spends his day in the car, we’re shown a portrait of a man that’s distanced himself from reality. He inhabits a plain of existence where people don’t behave like those others on the street and as such represents the very likely disconnect between the 1% and the real world. Where we normally empathise with a protagonist because we understand what they feel, here Cronenberg wants the opposite; he’s trying to engender in us Eric’s sense of not feeling. We’re not necessarily supposed to get what he’s talking about when he asks questions like “But what happens to all the stretch limousines that prowl the throbbing city all day long? Where do they spend the night?”
The general financial setting and protests (in which dead rats are flung around like nobody’s business) lend the film a natural pertinence for us as an audience. The director however isn’t interested in glorifying or vilifying Packer’s character, what he’s trying to do – it seems to me – is peek behind the tinted window and understand
people like this. This is precisely what we realise Eric is himself doing. He’s caught in an existential fug that’s descended upon him: perhaps due to his inability to master the Yuan; perhaps because he cannot bed his wife. Either way, he’s attempting to feel something – anything – and this is perhaps the reason for his insistence on visiting his barber.
As he has various sexual encounters, tries to buy expensive artworks (via Juliet Binoche), or discusses economic theory (with Samantha Morton), Eric is grasping for something and slowly unravelling as he does. The shades go, then the tie, then the jacket. His final confrontation is with the man who wants to kill him (Paul Giamatti) and he claims that Eric is self-destructing. Is this purely akin to Icarus as is suggested, or are we seeing a more calculated suicide? As his theorist earlier summarises, “Destroy the past; make the future.” In fact, it could well be read that the final confounding conversation between these two men is actually occurring in Packer’s imagination.
There’s doubtless an awful lot more than can be said about Cosmopolis (even in this piece of mentioned things I’ve not been able to explore further), and I’m sure that there are myriad other, equally interesting readings of what it’s all about. All I know is that whilst it’s by no means prefect, it’s utterly spellbinding and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading DeLillo’s book. Once that’s done, I can have another, more informed, crack at Cronenberg’s beguiling film and see if I can’t take even more meaning from it.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.