REVIEW: Cosmopolis [2012]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: June 8th, 2012 (Canada)
Studio: Entertainment One
Director(s): David Cronenberg
Writer(s): David Cronenberg / Don DeLillo (novel)

“My prostate is asymmetrical”

Thematically more like what David Cronenberg created before his last three films; I’m not quite sure what to think about Cosmopolis. Faithfully adapted from a novel by Don DeLillo, its look inside the day of billionaire magnate Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) skews closest to the hellish descents behind the director’s eXistenZ and seminal work Videodrome through a filter of smugness a la Bret Easton EllisAmerican Psycho. The characters speak in pronouns with a universal aloofness that makes their world appear a coldly detached fabrication of emotionless genius caught on autopilot. It’s a young man’s existence where twenty-two year old kids talk about retirement and twenty-eight year old powerhouses hit an early mid-life realization they’ve accomplished nothing despite wealth and success. Only through destruction can they hope to truly live.

But while heavy metaphor literally drips off each frame and mechanical performance, the point still eludes me. This soulless, sociopathic, intellectual God amongst men has grown bored of his hermetically sealed existence away from the horrors of the lower class and inferior minds. Who cares? Is it commentary on humanity’s selfish desire to be successful at the detriment of spouses, friends, and empathy? Does DeLillo’s work look to portray our quest for immortality as the sham of elongated pain and suffering its reality almost always proves to be? Packer sees a physician daily, yearns for perfection, and yet is enraptured by blemish. Attempts to catch acquaintances off-guard with impossible questions causes them to refuse answering; a need to understand the desolation of homicidal desire pushes him further inside the crosshairs.

Esoterically philosophical insights like “where do the limos go when their occupants are at home?” blatantly allude to his curiosity of death and emptiness and release. He covets his new wife’s (Sarah Gadon) body and yet she refuses him because they have forever; he has sex with women entering his sphere of influence to satisfy his urges; and he basks in the technological trinkets of his creation while nervous their infrastructure could be his demise. Money is meaningless with his wealth rising beyond the capacity to give it a number; only its loss provides a rush after years of accumulation through the buying and selling of ideas. He envies the parasitic rats leeching upon the rich, knowing he’s distanced himself from them far enough to circle back. Draining himself dry, his only true power now lies in controlling his fate.

Packer’s chief of security (Kevin Durand‘s Torval) continuously heads to the back window of the stretch limousine inside which eighty percent of the film takes place to discuss rising threat levels of danger. Sometimes these updates deal with the President of the United States whose visit to the city has caused Packer’s journey for a haircut to carry on much longer than normal and other times it’s concerning him. There has always been someone who wants him dead and he treats it like a game. Outside forces will not effect how he spends his day; he will live how he wants, traveling to meeting upon meeting inside his car with a bull’s eye of anarchist spray paint marking him for attack. He is the establishment everyone reviles and is completely oblivious to it.

Packer’s actions are intensely clinical much like the entirety of Cosmopolis. His world is unlike ours as everything revolves around his whims and when things don’t align—like his wife—he has no problem finding replacements. His bodyguards either want to be his friend (Durand), his conquest (Patricia McKenzie), or him (Zeljko Kecojevic). They enlist because of the thrill he provides despite enjoying none himself. Packer does, however, get off sexually with Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche), intellectually with Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), and professionally with Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire); enjoys projecting potential blame on his employees (Jay Baruchel‘s Shiner); and revels in his ability to acquire the best minds to help keep his lofty stature (Philip Nozuka‘s Michael Chin). Everyone is a commodity as he is to the world—to envy, hate, or ignore.

And I guess this is the key to what DeLillo and Cronenberg are hoping to achieve. They are putting a price on Packer’s head much like we place on those we come in contact with. He wants to be more than that number and yet doesn’t know how. Why does he hold such an appeal for men and women whether for love or revulsion? Why is he so important and yet so alone? The simple task of a haircut, while menial, is quite possibly the only real action taken. George Touliatos‘ barber is the last connection to a past life devoid of the constraints fortune has built around him. His scissors and kindhearted offer of eggplant combine into Packer’s “Rosebud” and he’s not sure he deserves to retain the memories of that boy he once was.

The film cultivates a detachment with its audience because its lead is detached from everything seen. Pattinson is quite good at portraying what many would love to believe is his actual persona and his interactions with a slew of recognizable faces only add to the manufactured feel—see Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, K’Naan, and more. The dialogue flows in rapid fire as though carefully timed yet completely disjointed and syncopated; the visual style constrained to the limo’s interior is surprisingly inventive; and its rather self-conscious air becomes one more technique to keep us uncomfortable when realizing our disapproval towards Packer is how we feel about everyone with a better lot than our own. Would we kill him for retribution? No, of course not. The poignant discovery here is that he would.

[1] Robert Pattinson star as Eric Packer in ‘Cosmopolis.’
[2] Juliette Binoche star as Didi Fancher in David Cronenberg drama ‘Cosmopolis.’
[3] Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) with Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon) in the scene of Cosmopolis.

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