Canadian David Cronenberg boasts a productive career and a stream of films that have always been visionary and pioneering in terms of their courage in looking for answers regarding the human body and soul, and sometimes the relationship between that body and soul.
“The Fly,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Spider,” “eXistenZ,” “Crash”… The list goes on and spans four decades.
The veteran director’s latest foray into existential issues and the state of our world finds form in “Cosmopolis,” a film that was also in the main competition of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Adapted from writer Don DeLillo’s book of the same title, the picture stars the “Twilight” saga heartthrob Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer, possibly one of the most obnoxious characters ever exposed on screen.
Packer is 28 years old, he is handsome, he is successful and he is rich beyond anyone’s imagination. He might have been born into money, but he has increased his fortune through his technology finance firm. He has recently married the beautiful and wealthy poet Elise (Sarah Gadon), not out of love but because it is the right thing to do for a man of his age and stature. Packer reminds one of the main character in “American Psycho,” only his obsessions and lust for power is not as degenerate as Patrick Bateman’s, even though his indignation towards the world around him is at the same level. This indignation, however, could be a dilemma for Packer, because even though he is at the top of the food chain of the new-world capitalism and this system has enabled him to be a gazillionaire, his doubt about himself and what he stands for might lead to his destruction.
The film mostly takes place in Packer’s white limousine, which is an alternate office and meeting place for his appointments. In the morning he gets in his limo, and decides whimsically that he wants a haircut. He just has to go to a specific barber. His bodyguard warns him that it is dangerous to be on the streets of New York at this time, because the president is also in New York and there is a threat to his life. But Packer won’t have it, so he enters his limo, a luxurious bubble that seems to protect him from all the apocalyptic chaos on the streets: It isn’t a coincidence that a version of the Occupy Movement has taken over the city.
People get in and out of Packer’s car: his wife, who actually tries to understand him, his genius nerd employees who have been carried away with the comforts and emotional indifference of the technological age; a middle-aged gallery owner (Juliette Binoche) who tries to sell him a Rothko painting after a quickie at the back seat; his “theorist” (Samantha Morton) who tries to give him an insight about what will happen if he bets against the Chinese Yuan; a Sufi rap star that he has befriended, later an anarchist (Mathieu Amalric); and a shady character (Paul Giamatti) who is incredibly angry at Packer for his past actions.
The film mostly consists of long conversations between Packer and these people; they sometimes talk about trivial things and sometimes unexpectedly profound comments on life come out of the characters’ mouths. Along with Packer, these people represent the fragments of our modern society, all out there to prove one thing or the other, all the while trying to understand their role in the entire puzzle. If one is into philosophy and contemplation, these conversations come out to be rather intriguing and sometimes even insightful. If you’re expecting a typical apocalyptic narrative, you have bought the wrong ticket.
This film is closer to the form of an essay, although it is the leading character with a very specific motivation that drives through one strange day in New York. It is the study of the enigmatic and reserved Packer, who is the epitome for the modern kind of human being that has possibly created his own demise without fully knowing it. Packer seems like the uber-mensch with his knowledge and power, but at the end of the day he is just one mechanism of the savage capitalistic system. Pattinson presents a fine performance that might put him in a new cinematic league, and Cronenberg adapts DeLillo’s novel in his unique and exalting style. Despite its ambitions and profundity, however, there is something missing in “Cosmopolis,” perhaps it is this viewer’s gnawing feeling that Packer’s enigma is never fully solved, and thus the film leaves us hanging in a place where closure is not provided.
Then again, this is Cronenberg, a filmmaker that never submits to anyone’s expectations. Luckily there are still extraordinary directors of his caliber.
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Cast: Robert Pattinson,
Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand, Mathieu Amalric, Samantha Morton, Sarah Gadon