To me David Cronenberg has become somewhat of an enigma in terms of directing. His latest films have been so diverse, one cannot even begin to predict any pattern or sense of progression in content. Comospolis further cements Cronenberg as a talented director choosing to challenge himself and the viewer.
Based on a novel by Don Delilo, Cosmopolis follows Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young millionaire who seems to have it all but yet is unsatisfied in every way.
The setting for the majority of the film is inside Eric's suped-up limousine as it ambles across New York to his favourite barber for a haircut. Along the way a number of unconnected friends and associates enter his limo to discuss business, money, art, existentialism, capitalism and sex. The ride also encounters heavy traffic, protests, a funeral and constant images of rats. As the day draws to a close, Eric's demeanour becomes more hopeless and deluded resorting to violent and inexplicable measures to ensure his fate.
I watch a massive amount of surreal, gruesome, dark, disturbing, nonsensical and downright weird films but Cosmopolis is definitely up there amongst the weirdest! It's not that it was graphically violent or overly sexual but instead it oozed a sense of serious absurdity and illogicality. Firstly, the characters often did not look at each other while they were talking, seemingly possessing no ordinary human connection. The characters entered the limo from the street with no explanation as to how they even knew where it was. Even the fact that Eric was being driven across the city for a measly haircut despite blatant obstacles hindering their journey was odd. To baffle us even more, there were certain scenes of rats, a pie, scarred bodyguards, hi-tech guns and an unfinished haircut. What was the significance of these images?
The second half of the film further confuses the story with unexpected violent events that are never explained. The introduction of Paul Giamatti's character so late in the film and with such an extended scene builds on the already brimming perplexity and really questions the importance of any of the characters at all.
I have pondered this film for some time, trying to create any sense of understanding. I have resulted in a few explanations. The first is that the film is not so much of a story with characters, a plot and interaction but more of a metaphor with a message. I see
Eric as the main character and everything that happens to him is like a reflection of his subconscious. The constant sex and drinking represents his basic animalistic desires, whereas his wife is the intelligent and sophisticated woman he ultimately yearns for but cannot have. He is wealthy and successful but he only has friends who use him for his money and sex, and have no emotional attachment. His bodyguard represents security but the sense of safety is stifling. Eric craves freedom from money and all the perils that come with it but the only way he can do that is to concoct his own downfall. So everything in the film and all the characters are not real but just metaphors to deliver the message that essentially money is evil and no love or friendships can be bought with it.
OK, so the other theory I had was similar to the first but that it was all a dream. In a dream everything revolves around the dreamer. In Cosmopolis everything revolved around Eric. He was in effect the centre of the universe and everything happened to him. That also explains how characters appeared and departed inexplicably, why the conversations were sometimes senseless, the appearance of rats after Eric mentioned rats in conversation, and other unexplained events that were out of character and completely out of place. Like my first theory, everything else that happened represented his subconscious. The sex and alcohol were his carnal desires, his wife was the perfect unattainable woman, and money and his bodyguard were his security but also his prison.
The third theory I had is essentially the same as the dream but instead the dream was the visions of his subconscious seconds before his death. All the characters and incidents were manifestations, his fears, desires and insecurities realised with the inevitability of death in the end.
With the plot and characters aside, other aspects of the film were good. The camera work was meticulous and compelling. Some
may say the acting was a bit stiff and cold but if you take one of my plot theories into account, the icy performances made sense. Even Robert Pattinson's acting was digestible, not dissimilar to Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. I also find that if a movie is that bizarre it is difficult to convey "good" acting in such strange circumstances. I find comparability to films by David Lynch where I sometimes question whether the acting is bad or that the writing is just too weird that any deliveries would seem unnatural.
The music for Cosmopolis was sparse and atmospheric creating a sense of unease. I think there was only one actual discernible song used in body of the film. The sound design was unusual. All the scenes in the limo were abnormally quiet with no outside or traffic noise audible. Likewise in the diner and shop scenes, despite the number of customers also in the establishments, only the main characters could really be heard. Considering my theories, this element does confirm the idea that Eric was the centre of everything and nothing existed unless he wanted them to.
Regardless of my critical judgements of this film, I actually found it extremely fascinating and complex. I am unaware of what the original novel is like but I love movies that don't follow the normal paradigms of cinema or even the constraints of normal human
behaviour. I found that because this film did not reflect reality, it questioned the very idea of modern existence. Instead of hiding human insecurities, fears and desires, Cosmopolis flung these usually concealed inadequacies in our faces, highlighting the façade of contemporary society and capitalistic control. The film was like a cross between Richard Linklater, David Lynch and Franz Kafka with a smattering of nihilism. It was highly thought provoking yet hopelessly surreal and at times absurd. When finishing the film, I was filled with a sense of enthralment and confusion but sometimes that feeling of uncertainty is liberating. Or maybe that's just me and my fondness to disregard normality. I will not suggest this film to your average moviegoer but to those who like to broaden their minds, I highly recommend it. I'd give this film a 7.5 out of 10.
Directed by David Cronenberg.
Written by David Cronenberg (screenplay), Don Delilo (novel).
Starring Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Durand, Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton etc.
Country: Canada, France, Portugal, Italy.