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By Shane M. Dallmann

Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), the “obscenely wealthy” CEO of Packer Capital, wants a haircut. And it doesn’t matter if it takes all day (the U.S. President is visiting his unnamed metropolis, among other complications, reducing traffic to a nearly imperceptible crawl)–he’s going to ride in his limo all the way across town in order to get it. Along the way, he observes the rapid dwindling of his fortune (those schooled in high finance may understand the intricacies of, for instance, the battle with the yuan, but I don’t think the audience is really supposed to care about the details) and the violent activities of an anarchist uprising (envisioned well before the “Occupy” movement but the comparison is still there for the taking, of course), and takes in the news of a credible threat on his own life–a threat which he finds quite interesting.

For the third time in his career, David Cronenberg tackles a novel that most would regard as “unfilmable,” in this case a book by Don DeLillo (unread by me). COSMOPOLIS effortlessly fits in with the director’s constant theme of transformation: we start with a practically robotized character immersed in “the symbiosis of technology and capital” who seems quite incapable of experiencing or responding to human feeling despite the fact that he goes through all of the motions (including a three-week-old marriage which he’s already destroyed). But while the events taking place represent his personal and professional ruination, he’s not at all distressed–rather, he’s fascinated with his new “freedom.”

COSMOPOLIS is essentially presented in a series of vignettes in which Packer interacts (or attempts to interact) with various people in and around the limousine (which hosts much, but by no means all, of the “action”). He shares stilted conversations with his wife (and by “stilted,” I mean David Lynch stilted), has various sexual dalliances, undergoes his daily medical checkup (yes, including the infamous prostate exam, which turns out to be quite important to the story) and shares an all-too-casual relationship with his own head of security, all well before we finally get to the barbershop.

The limousine setting and the quest for feeling will certainly remind faithful viewers of Cronenberg’s previous CRASH, but COSMOPOLIS, believe it or not, actually has more in common with VIDEODROME itself. There may or may not be hallucination involved (Packer jokes about a poem in which rats have become the national currency, but it seems to be happening for real every time he looks out the window), what transpires when Packer turns on a financial news/talk show goes without saying, and then there’s the scene in which Packer begs his security guard/sex toy to zap him with her Taser just so he can feel the sensation for itself. The scene cuts away before you see what actually happens, but the fact that SHE’S holding the Taser weakens the sequence in comparison with the VIDEODROME moment in which Max himself is holding the cigarette, if you take my meaning.

Critical response to COSMOPOLIS has not been kind: most people will tell you “yeah, it’s well acted (let’s forget the TWILIGHT and “bloodsucker” jokes–Pattinson is supposed to start the movie as a soulless drone and his performance is worth following), it’s well directed, but so WHAT?” By the time Paul Giamatti shows up to set up the finale (this in itself is not a spoiler), most viewers were deadened beyond caring. My own reaction was almost opposite. For the first half of the film, I was practically squirming in my seat as the festival of non-communication inched along (I also noticed a middle-aged woman entering the theatre about fifteen minutes late and walking out less than ten minutes later, never to return), but the increasing bursts of violence were genuinely startling, and as Packer’s humanity asserted itself (especially when K’Nan showed up to alert him to the funeral of his favorite Sufi rapper–procession complete with whirling dervishes), my interest perked up significantly and I was back “into” the film all the way to the end.

The ending itself will no doubt frustrate some, but I called it well before it happened and it didn’t bother me. And no, I did not shout “Long live the new flesh!” The best thing I can say is that COSMOPOLIS is quite difficult to sit through, but that Cronenberg’s fans and followers need to do so at least once all the same.

P.S. I did NOT sign up for the interactive experience and did NOT appreciate enduring my own road-work inspired COSMOPOLIS crawl on my way home from the theatre.

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