By Don Simpson | August 26, 2012
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: David Cronenberg (screenplay), Don DeLillo (novel)
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, K’Naan, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Philip Nozuka, Patricia McKenzie, Abdul Ayoola, George Touliatos
Eric Packer’s (Robert Pattinson) hair is trimmed and parted to immaculate perfection, but he still really wants a haircut today; this, despite the urging of his head of security — Torval (Kevin Durand) — to avoid traveling across midtown Manhattan to a barbershop located deep in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Torval is perfectly reasonable in thinking this crosstown excursion is a very bad idea. Not only are Manhattan’s arteries clogged by a Presidential motorcade, a funeral for a famous rapper, and an anti-Capitalist protest, but there has been an imminent and credible threat on Eric’s life. Besides, Packer’s net worth is plummeting due to a failed bet on the yuan’s value, so shouldn’t he be in his office trying to stop the financial hemorrhaging before its too late? No way, because this “foully, berserkly rich” 28-year-old multi-kazillionaire gets whatever he the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants it; an impossible to get to haircut is just another absurd indulgence of the his 1% lifestyle.
Luckily, Eric can do everything that he needs/wants to do from the comfort of his teched-out stretch limousine. Outside, traffic sits in a virtual standstill, so Eric’s most trusted advisers are able to come and go from the limo at will. Didi (Juliette Binoche), for one, gives Eric some post-coital advise on potential art purchases; being the unreasonable brat that he is, Eric has his mind set on relocating the entire Rothko Chapel into his apartment rather than purchasing just one painting. Later, Jane (Emily Hampshire) provides Eric with financial advice while he enjoys a good old fashioned anal probing — not performed by Jane, mind you, but by his doctor during a daily physical. Obviously turned on by Eric’s orgasmic moans and expressions, Jane shoves a water bottle between her thighs, crushing it with her increasingly tightened grip. Eric’s Chief Philosophizing Officer, Vija (Samantha Morton), commands the interior of his limo like a wizened sage. If we thought his other advisers spoke in a hyper-textually codified speech, Vija spins a heady language that forms a virtually indecipherable, oblique web of words.
Eric’s limo is a bullet-proofed bubble that has been “Prousted” (corked) to block out the noise of the rest of the world, while the limo’s windows reveal the faux-reality of rear projection images. The entire first half of the film takes place inside the limo, like a one-act play with characters spouting high-minded dialogue in emotionlessly monotone frequencies. Only the characters’ purposefully strong accents provide them with any sense of connection to our world. The electric glow emanating from the array of cutting edge touch screens and monitors lend the characters cold and unnatural skin tones to match their deliberately wooden manner of moving and speaking.
There is absolutely nothing real about what goes on inside the limo, thus reflecting the vast disparities that exist between the über-rich and everyone else. As disassociated from the 99% as Mitt Romney, Eric exists in an alternate reality in which human concepts of language and time have been exponentially redefined and restructured. Philosophy and mathematics rule Eric’s reality, but it’s a world that does not factor in the possibilities of anomalies. This is blasted into Eric’s face when he is told by his doctor that he has an asymmetrical prostate; it is as if his body is reminding him of the bitter realities of the sheer randomness and chaos of the universe, even something as seemingly mathematically precise as the trading markets does not always abide by human-made laws.
As if flirting with death, Eric begins to leave the safety of his limo for longer and longer periods of time. Eventually, Eric does arrive at the barbershop of his destiny. Barbershops have historically been hubs of male socialization and communication; this being Eric’s childhood barber makes it even more apparent that this is his last ditch attempt to hang onto the significantly more organic reality of his past. Eric’s present could not be any more different from his past; he was not born into extreme wealth like his diabolically frigid and impenetrable wife, Elise (Sarah Gadon). The “Prousted” wall between past and present is what makes Eric seem so unreal; he is no longer grounded by his own personal history. Nonetheless, Eric’s post modern attention span is much too short for idle barbershop chit chat and he is inexhaustibly driven to discover whoever it is that is threatening his life; so Eric exits the barbershop with a lopsided hairstyle to match his prostate. Besides, Eric has already survived getting creamed in the face by a renowned pie terrorist (Mathieu Amalric), what harm could another nemesis do to him?
Cosmopolis contemplates the effects of politics, economics and technology on the basic carnal desire for forming human connections. Cosmopolis also serves as an abstract essay on the perceived power of commodification, ownership and possession. Its most potent critique, however, is of currency standards. The protestors’ cry to base the market upon rat currency suggests that maybe the Wall St. rats should deal in a currency that better suits their moral fiber. Additionally, like Eric, Wall St. has drifted far astray from the shores of reality by creating their own minute measure of time and developing a currency standard that is based on nothing real. This obviously echoes real life calls for our world economy to convert to a gold standard; though, of course, basing the financial market on rats is ridiculously absurd. Gold is not disease ridden, nor does it die and decay; but converting to a gold standard could very easily lead to hysterical hoarding. Chances are, gold will not level the playing field between the haves and have-nots.
A throwback to his classic films, Cosmopolis is Cronenberg’s first credited screenplay since Existenz (1999). He adapted Cosmopolis from the Don DeLillo novella, which was written during the aftermath of the tech collapse of 2000 — though its message is just as relevant following the economic crash of 2008. I really could not imagine a better writer-director to adapt DeLillo’s dense-yet-dreamily-poetic dialogue and Cronenberg nails DeLillo’s token tone, rhythm and pacing that has differentiated him from other [post] modern writers. DeLillo and Cronenberg saturate every single word, sound and image with significance creating a presumably impossible to crack puzzle, not unlike some of Cronenberg’s most challenging films, Existenz, Crash, and Videodrome. Twihards (specially those on Team Edward) beware, this is not your typical Robert Pattinson role — no matter how sexy and dreamy you think Pattinson is, you will not like Cosmopolis. You have my guarantee on that.