The director David Cronenberg has long been known for making films that are about, at their heart, the human body. Many people refer to his films such as Videodrome and Naked Lunch as part of the ‘body horror’ sub-genre. In actuality, Cronenberg is able to raise his films to a much more intellectual level than that.
With Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg marks a change of course. Instead of making a film about the body, his adaptation of the Don DeLillo novel is much more cerebral. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a billionaire businessman in a slightly futuristic New York City. Packer decides that he needs a haircut, and decides to take a white limo across town to a barber that he and his father have used for years. Along the way he has meetings in the limo with people who work for him, such as his art consultant (Juliette Binoche), his chief advisor (Samantha Morton), and several meetings with his estranged wife (Sarah Gadon). Along the way, Packer finds out that he’s losing money at a staggering rate, while his chief of security (Kevin Durand) informs him that a former employee (Paul Giamatti) has made a threat to kill him.
Considering all this, Cosmopolis moves at a surprisingly slow pace. Characters come and go from the limo (where the majority of the film takes place), after having conversations with Packer that make up scenes that last ten minutes. The final scene in the film when Packer confronts his homicidal ex-employee lasts almost twenty minutes. This is quite a daring thing to do, and should only really be done if the script is particularly superb, which in this case it certainly is. Cronenberg for the most part keeps the awkward and bizarrely crafted dialogue used in DeLillo’s novel. The characters speak in almost Pinter-esque ways, with a strange structure that pretty much strips it of all emotion.
Similarly in a Pinter-esque way, the events that take place outside the limo are almost treated like they don’t exist. At one point when Packer is talking to his chief advisor, the limo is attacked by a crowd rioting on the streets against capitalism. The graffiti and rock the limo from side to side, all the time Packer and his guest continue their conversation like it’s not even happening. The view from Packer’s limo is quite often of a world that looks artificial and manufactured.
Even the characters themselves come across as artificial beings. Robert Pattinson gives the best performance of his career as the mega rich Eric Packer. For want of a better analogy, Pattinson turns Packer into this vamperic character, who doesn’t react to anything that happens around him. He’s completely cut off emotionally, as are the rest of the characters. But in the case of Pattinson’s performance, it is more highlighting the soullessness of people who benefit the most from capitalism.
Herein lies the main point the film tries to make; the dangers of capitalism. Cosmopolis is set in the not so distant future, and considering the riots, and banks and businesses that only benefit the rich, this is rather timely. It is a bleak but still plausible vision of what the world will look like in twenty years’ time, maybe even less than that; a world filled with social uprising while the mega rich drive in their limos completely oblivious to it all.
Many people have criticised the film for not being emotionally engaging, but on the whole it does seem the point of Cronenberg’s film. He doesn’t want you to empathise with Packer, he wants you to see what the world is like around him, and try and figure out how it all connects to his own path of self-destruction. It is a superbly slick and stylish film, with a great cast led by the superb Robert Pattinson, and a truly unique script. Cronenberg tackles the difficult questions about capitalism, and with great intelligence and originality, leaves the audience with just enough room to try and figure out what is going on for themselves. In my opinion, the best film of 2012 so far.
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