“People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do.”
In the not-too-distant future, a 28-year old finance golden boy named Eric Packer is about the spend one long, mind-numbing day in his stretch limo. Barely moving through the chaotic streets of New York City, Eric lives and breathes in his car. In fact, he has sex, is examined daily by a physician, receives counseling, and generally consumes the long lazy expanses stretching between point A and point B. But this is no ordinary day. Not for Eric. Today he wants a haircut and everything is about to change because of it.
Cosmopolis is the 2012 sci-fi drama directed by David Cronenberg starring Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer, Paul Giamatti as Benno, Juliette Binoche as Didi, Samantha Morton as Vija, and Sarah Gadon as Eric’s wife, Elise.
Love him or hate him, and I’m sure there’s a fair amount that could go either way, Robert Pattinson is here to stay.
Pattinson’s performance in Cosmopolis is near-perfect. That is to say – this film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo is strangely literal. Not all written dialogue sounds as good when spoken aloud as it does in your head. With Cosmopolis, if you ever do adjust to the cadence and language of its cast of characters, you may have already given up on the plot. People seem to have confused this oddness with Pattinson’s (et al) ability to act.
This is a mistake.
I’ll be the first to admit it took three attempts to watch Cosmopolis through to its finale. And even then, I wasn’t sure I liked it.
I want to. Does that count?
I want to like the womb like metaphor of Eric’s stretch limo in which he conducts the majority of his life. I want to like the cast of characters that cater to Eric’s every whim, every need. I want to like – but immediately hate – the language of the film, the way the characters speak.
In the end, I realize this dissertation on the future and the past, the convergence of theory and reality, requires a certain lenience to be enjoyed, understood, or even endured.
You see, Cosmopolis is a “mood” film, one that necessitates an ability to focus on what one is watching and relax into the slightly off feeling constructed by Cronenberg, the script, and the actors’ performances. As a result, Cosmopolis affects a sort of schizophrenic energy in its audience. Love it or hate it. No gray areas here.
The film – its acceptance or rejection – is down to David Cronenberg, best known for his work in the body horror genre (The Fly, Rabid, Dead Ringers), who – acting as screenwriter and director, was the visionary force behind Cosmopolis. His decision to maintain Don DeLillo’s awkward dialogue lends a coldness and distance to the work making it next to impossible for people not in touch with the subject matter or references to access and draw from.
The result for most is a film that feels staged and unrelatable.
But back to Pattinson.
I meant what I said. Pattinson’s performance as Eric Packer is cold on the surface but emotionally flammable internally. Oh you see what I did there? You may think I’m referencing Pattinson’s Twilight days, but the truth is there is no Edward Cullen to be found in his performance. In fact, Pattinson’s stoicism is so fragile in its construction, it takes but little to bring forth the cracks where the heat bubbles up. Pattinson easily turns it on and turns it off, at once miserable and yet exultant. Back and forth and back again. Pattinson proves he is not afraid to be ugly and be seen doing ugly things.
Eric – the character – is a wonderful mash of privilege and fear, entitlement and ambivalence. The fact that the driving force behind the plot revolves around little more than Eric’s desire for a haircut is a strangely ironic venture. That Eric is so afraid of the world around him he has sealed himself off from it, going so far as to cork line his stretch limo to help deaden the noise caused by it, should be deeply satisfying.
After all, this is a man who has billions of dollars, can fit entire churches inside his apartment, and doesn’t care about the little guy.
This material is timely.
Cosmopolis is peppered with public outcry and prone to its own “occupy” crowds that close in on Eric’s limo to deface and damage it. This should be delightful for those who have felt the crunch since the 2008 financial collapse. It should feel like getting a pound of flesh. But it doesn’t. Because we rarely see beyond the walls of the limo, we remain as cold and detached from the experience as Eric.
In this way, Cosmopolis is too safe.
These are not words I’m used to forming when I’m watching a David Cronenberg film.
The upside to Cosmopolis, and if I’m honest there are many, is that its hypnotic vibe is contagious. Once you are inside its world, if you ever make it in, you will remain there for the remainder of the story emerging on the other side strangely quiet and maybe a little introspective.
Performances by Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti help, but only so much.
Robert Pattinson interview:
Robert Pattinson & David Cronenberg interview:
Official site: David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis
Wiki facts: Cosmopolis
Is Cosmopolis rotten or fresh?
Related: Cosmopolis film blog
Related – LAMB: The Movie Waffler reviews Cosmopolis
Related – LAMB: Sean Kelly on Movies reviews Cosmopolis