By Jake Howell

Cannes Competition review: Cosmopolis

David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a complex and incredibly nuanced film that adapts its source material handily, representing Don DeLillo’s novel with cinematic specificity and Cronenbergian methodology. Multiple viewings will be required to fully grapple (and perhaps enjoy) the result, but the film’s incredible dialogue and insightful rhetoric will challenge audiences in the best way.

Cosmopolis revolves around Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a young, hot-shot, self-destructive billionaire who embarks on a journey across town to get a haircut. Packer travels by stretch limousine, an inappropriate method of transportation in a busy metropolis like Manhattan, but it symbolizes power and importance in a way no other vehicle can. It’s a status thing. When his day is upended by riots in a city filled with economic unrest, the rest of his adventure becomes an odyssey that is better left seen than described.

Audiences going to see Cosmopolis because of Robert Pattinson’s involvement may be severely disappointed, because the trailer for the film is deceiving. The promotional clips show glimpses of the film’s “exciting” scenes, but these moments are found less frequently than one would expect. This shouldn’t disappoint, because there is a healthy amount of disturbing action—this is a Cronenberg film, after all—but these spikes of intensity happen only after lengthy conversations filled with philosophical banter and rhetorical questioning. In other words, the riveting moments in Cosmopolis aren’t exactly the selling point —but the dialogue might be.

If you’re still up for the ride, Cronenberg sits you down in Eric Packer’s limousine and pours you a drink. You’re going to be here a while, and you’re going to talk about things coolly and calmly. You know; hash things out. The world outside is imploding, but do your best to ignore the calamity occurring around you. You’re inside, you’re safe, and you’re in in the company of powerful people as you ride in a luxurious soundproof limousine. So sit back and enjoy your drink, but make sure you pay attention: there are bigger issues at play here, like the specter of capitalism that haunts the people of the world. Oh, and someone wants to kill Eric Packer.

While Cosmopolis is satirical, it’s better described as a dark elucidation of modern society. Both the film and the novel are absurd because of the way certain characters speak and act, but what’s depicted isn’t all that farfetched. In fact, there’s nothing overtly science fiction about how Eric Packer lives his life or how his world functions, which makes the result of this story all the more interesting. Packer’s billionaire status is the result of ruining others—a melancholic Mitt Romney, say—but he isn’t just the corporate vampire that some audiences may want to interpret him as. He’s a man, he’s mortal, and he wants to feel something more than empty sex and endless riches. And goddammit, he also wants a haircut.

DeLillo’s Manhattan envisioned in Cosmopolis is decidedly dystopian, but it only takes a slight stretching of the logical causalities of capitalism to see how we could find ourselves here one day. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of scary. There’s a lot to explore here, but the most important thing is that Cosmopolis is all too relevant: from the real-world protests of Occupy Wall Street to global markets falling because of risky, greedy business, Cosmopolis discusses a gamut of current economic topics and philosophies. What’s really interesting is that DeLillo wrote the novel in 2003 —long, long before Occupy Wall Street was even conceived and became a worldwide reaction to the horrors of unchecked capitalism. It’s apparent the novel was prescient in many ways, but the film version finds itself landing upon a society that needs—and actively wants—to hear what Cosmopolis has to say. The film is an existential look of how our economy works, while commenting on other philosophies and ideologies in the wake.

Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer solidifies what some critics have suspected for a while now: the dude is more than a perfectly-chiseled face. Pattinson likely gets a bad rap because Twilight’s source material is inherently ridiculous, but there’s little the actors involved with that series can do to improve it. Cannes 2012 is an interesting year for both Kristen Stewart and Pattinson, because they are doing what they can to remove the baggage of their shared vampiric past. I’m inclined to say they’ve both succeeded. Talking about Stewart’s performance in On The Road should be saved for a review of that film, but the strength of Pattinson’s Packer is enough to separate the actor from the insanity of Stephenie Meyer fandom.

It’s unclear right now whether or not Cosmopolis is a definitive Wall Street film, because the pacing could be torment for audiences unwilling to listen to the various exchanges in and outside Packer’s limousine. Yes, Cosmopolis can feel long, but it’s also very tight: DeLillo’s original dialogue is lifted from the book, and the film is all the better for it. The discussions might not be gory or explosive, but the lines are exciting in their own way‹think sexy and snappy; crisp and crazy. The script might not initially induce the “good movie chills” cinemagoers eternally lust after, but there’s a lot to take in here, and a second viewing is definitely warranted. When audiences aren’t busy piecing together the narrative, it will be easier to enjoy the juicy critiques of society and rhetorical reflections in Cosmopolis, of which there are plenty.

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One Response to “Cannes Competition review: Cosmopolis”

  1. Mark says:

    I loved the book, and I cannot wait for the movie. Eric Parker is Gordon Gekko for the Y generation…Delillo captures perfectly the anti-elitist movements of the early 2010s…years ahead of its actual happening. Cronenberg is absolutely an appropriate choice to bring this novel to life. I can’t wait!

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon