It’s a new morning in New York City and newlywed, billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) wants a haircut. The President is in town, which is causing massive traffic jams, but nevermind, he’s made his decision and, even if it takes all day, he’s going to get that haircut. This, in the most simplest of terms, is the plot of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis based on the novel by Don DeLillo. The film, and its telling, as it turns out, are so much more, delivering a commentary on the lives we lead, where we are going, where we have been, where we are right now and what we must do if we are to truly gain “freedom”. And I can’t say I have even started to scratch the surface of everything it explores.
Multiple viewings are essentially required for Cosmopolis to even begin to dissect each and every nuance of its story. It begins with a conversation between Packer and his head of security (Kevin Durand) in a stilted back-and-forth of words almost robotic in nature and definitely not a pattern of every day speech you or I recognize.
From here it’s into Packer’s stretch limo. He’s been informed the President is in town. Later he’ll learn of a funeral procession also slowing traffic while at the same time learn a threat has been made against his life. All of this is presented in words that may as well be corporate briefings. It’s all very matter-of-fact and in no way does it raise an emotional eyebrow.
Over the course of his travels through town Packer takes meetings in his limousine with a variety of advisors, acquaintances and doctors. At one point he has quite the intense conversation with one female friend (Emily Hampshire) while he gets his daily physical, a physical that ends with the longest prostate examination the world has ever known.
Protests erupt, Packer has monotone conversations with his wife (Sarah Gadon) about his desire for sex and her unwillingness to give in, he cheats on her, more than once, he’s confronted by a protester and rats are contemplated as currency. All the while, Packer is rapidly loosing his fortune over the course of the day due to a bad investment. In order to create you must first destroy. Packer is learning this as a variety of themes and metaphors populate the picture, but one reason I need to see it again is because I was captivated by the filmmaking itself.
The strange reality Cronenberg creates had me focused on every syllable of dialogue, movement of each actor and blocking of each scene. Packer takes to sitting in what could be described as a throne in the back of his 20-foot symbol of opulence, the window occasionally lowering to speak to his head of security and the other seats frequented by his visitors. However, there are moments his “throne” is occupied by another, lessening Packer’s status in the vehicle. Purposefully? In the film’s final scene this style of storytelling is even more prevalent and effective.
Then there’s the manner of speech and the use of green screen. During the opening scenes, as I mentioned, the actors are almost robotic in nature, their words uttered as if by a computer rather than a human. However, throughout the film this begins to change and conversations become more “real,” more human.
The same goes for the way the film is shot and the use of green screen outside Packer’s limo. In early scenes it’s glaringly obvious the world outside Packer’s tinted windows is fake, but as the film progresses the outside world begins closing in and reality begins to take hold. It’s fascinating the control over the narrative Cronenberg exhibits in his storytelling alone and then there are the performances.
Robert Pattinson is primarily known as Edward from the Twilight series, a franchise that has done him no favors. However, in Cosmopolis all the work he’s put in before is washed away as if it never existed. This is Pattinson’s finest hour, his performance compliments everything I just described having to do with Cronenberg’s filmmaking achievements, all leading up to an outstanding final scene in which Pattinson goes toe-to-toe with Paul Giamatti and the two knock it out of the park.
In this world all stand tall from those already mentioned to Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Samantha Morton and Patricia McKenzie. The hardest part with it all is finding an “in”.
Cosmopolis is fascinating, but it’s far from mainstream entertainment. It’s not at all accessible to general audiences looking for an easily digestible feature and as much as I respect it, even I was looking at my watch occasionally, wondering how far along we were.
If you make it a point to see it, be sure and take someone along. You’re going to want to discuss it and dissect it whether you love it or hate it and, who knows, by the time you’re done you may realize it has grown on you more than you would have imagined it could.