COSMOPOLIS, David Cronenberg (2012)
The reason I probably started Popcorn and Movies almost four years ago was David Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, if not the first one. I’ve revised my earliest posts and damn! They are short and terrible. I’m glad this is something I think I’ve improved as I’ve been feeling more comfortable with what I wanted to do here. Regarding Cronenberg, , I’ve discovered that right after my first post introducing myself to the world, I immediately talked about the Canadian director. Mine is irrational passion for his work.
It’s been many years since the Baron of Blood started working into more conventional projects, such as A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, receiving sharp criticism who were charmed by his entrails, frightening tools, and twisted stories, in which you as the viewer had to put your senses to work in order to differ what was reality and what hallucination.
With a Dangerous Method, many fans gave up on him as there was no action, no sci-fi, and the story about the triangle relationship among Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein was too philosophical and very heavy to stand for many. Since I love subjects related to psychiatry, I enjoyed the film lots, but I knew immediately that fans would despise it.
Cronenberg is presenting his last work Cosmopolis at Sitges Film Festival these days, before being released at cinemas in a couple of weeks, and I’ve managed to watch it already. After the trailers and despite the presence of Robert Pattinson, I was really excited about the film. I haven’t finished Don DeLillo’s book yet, but as far as I’m concerned, the script is quite loyal to the original story.
Cosmopolis basically tells the story of the decline of a 28-year-old powerful and hugely wealthy Wall Street shark, in just one day.
Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has so much money, he can buy everything in life. He’s the atypical man who can hardly understand NO for an answer, so used to have all kind of yes men around. He has barely slept last night and decides he needs a haircut at his favorite barbershop downtown. On an average day such errand would not take much time, but these are restless times, and the city is affected by the presence of the US president, a large funeral, and hordes of anarchists trying to put Capitalism to an end, rioting on the streets. All these events determine the car route to take, which has to be modified at any risk signal Torval (Kevin Durand), his security chief, receives. Thus, most part of the action takes place inside the car, a huge armed limo equipped high technology, capable of isolating Packer from any outside threat. He receives visits from several counselors and advisers, who consider themselves at a lower lever than their employer, who is defined as a seer. Today Yuen, is behaving beyond his prediction, and the young billionaire is losing large amounts of money at the smallest time measure you might think of, but still he’s calm. Eventually “it will chart”.
He crosses ways with Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), his new wife, a gorgeous poet who barely remembers his physical features and doesn’t feel like having sex with him. Their marriage was actually a transaction, as her family is even wealthier. No matter how much effort Eric puts in having average couple conversations and behaving normal towards her, she’s continuously rejecting and avoiding him. There’s no love nor affection, everything’s a fake. He only seems to be affected by the deprivation of sex, which he quickly eases sexual encounters with a former mistress (Juliette Binoche), who is his art consultant, and a security staff member. It’s remarkable they are both his employees.
Cosmopolis is a series of encounters with different kinds of people, and the cathartic ride of Packer from control and safety to the unknown and dangerous, a ride that he deliberately forced into motion, probably looking for a reason to live and many to keep on doing what he had been doing all these years. As the day advances, not only he’s losing his fortune, but also the unstable situation in the city begins to affect him, and the death threat to his persona is becoming real, so he starts looking forward to facing it the soonest possible.
Again David Cronenberg delivers a work too controversial from the fan point of view. Cosmopolis will never let you indifferent, but there’s one thing for sure: you’ll love it or hate it, but there’s no grey scale you can stick to. My choice is totally predictable: thumbs UP.
If there is something I’ve found disturbing in DeLillo’s book is precisely the coldness of Eric Packer. He’s a control freak and a visionary, and his counselors, real statistics and financial nerdy experts, are way behind him. Every time he asks a question they avoid answering to safe themselves from humiliation for not delivering a smart enough answer. Of the acquaintances he meets throughout the day, nobody stands at his same level, but his barber, Anthony, probably because he’s the only attachment to his past, and consequently to his father. “Destroy the past, make the future”.
His relationship with women is also peculiar. Recently married to Elise, they have nothing in common, and since the very beginning such marriage is doomed to fail. It’s another deal, another transaction, too aseptic, with a complete lack of confidence and affinity. He forces himself to act like an average husband to get what he really looks for in a woman, sex, and she’s constantly rejecting him, as she doesn’t depend on him but on her family, and is free to do so, as she’s not of his property. Eric hardly accepts this, and keeps on pushing, while in the meantime submit his female employees to his will. For instance, Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire), his chief of finance, is summoned to the limo on her day off while training, and she has to discuss yuen issues while he’s having his daily prostate exam, something which brings out a highly sexual tense situation. The only woman who perhaps receives all his attention and we could say respect, is Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton), his chief of theory, during the anarchist riots started by the rat men yelling “the spector of capitalism” happening outside the car. No doubt their conversation, her analysis of what going on with capitalism, remarking that the future is inconsistent and something might happen that very same day, is the key of the whole story, the confirmation of Packer’s world collapsing.
In order not to spoil the film, I cannot extend much talking about another essential character, Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), a loser who used to be enthusiastic about currency analysis. He aims to see Packer suffering for certain reasons, however, he’s at lower level, he cannot compete in dialectics, and no matter how hard he tries, he’s uncapable of impressing his former boss, it is the other way round.
Packer’s personality and behavior can be easily compared to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, leaving aside all the serial killing. They are both neat, powerful, cold, detached from reality and current society. While Bateman is unable to fit in because of his mental issues and his thirst of blood, Packer is unable to establish boundaries to real world due to his power. When he’s offered a piece of art by Rothko, he doesn’t show any passionate interest, he only wants to purchase a whole chapel to be rebuilt in his apartment just for his own pleasure, regardless the public interest. Everything has a price, and he will yield to his will only if outbid. The billionaire’s actual status would be reduced to his own sentence: “show me something I don’t know”. His wife Elise at some point realizes his main occupation is knowing things. The more you know the more you control, right?
The limo and the city are also relevant in the film. I’d say the limo is an extension of Packer himself, and all the damages it suffers during the riots are a reflection of his own decline. Inside the car remains intact, alien to what’s happening on the streets, protecting and isolating Packer from reality. The car works as an office, a private surgery room, a bachelor pad, a therapy room…and a toilet. The movement is almost unnoticeable, the city is burning while he inside is cold and silent.
Manhattan has been always a traffic mess, however the visit of the president, and the mourning and funeral of Packer’s favorite rap artist Brutha Fez, seed chaos, which turns into complete mayhem with the riots. The unpredictability, combined with the man’s stubbornness, results fatal for someone who has everything under control to the detail.
I’ve been reading all kind of comments and reviews already, and seems that there’s not a firm and common verdict, which I particularly enjoy. There are aspects very criticized, I personally feel enthusiastic about. The cold tone of dialogues, the succession of visits and characters creating this one to one scenes, the rhythm of the story as a long ride, and the claustrophobic setting of the car…
My taste for this journeys to the lowest level of the human being is known. I also think of Shame here. Characters living a perfect and under control lives till there’s some twisting point which drives them to free falling into fatal decadence.
The story of Packer is the tale of a guy who never paid attention to improbability, the tale of a non so far away inconsistent future, and he fall of the values society was stuck to.
Can’t think of anyone better than Cronenberg to depict the above mentioned. The presence of Peter Suschitzky responsible for cinematography, is essential to deliver such an impressive visual film, beautiful in technique and outstanding in aesthetics, the participation of Howard Shore once again with the soundtrack, is subtle yet fully intense. The director’s special taste to adapt DeLillo’s work in a magnificent way, managing to develop his personal insane atmosphere is out of question. You watch Cosmopolis and even though Cronenberg has diverted from earlier works, or it should be about time to change the term to EVOLVED, you clearly notice his trademark. It’s difficult to recreate a complex story with your personal features remaining almost intact.
It’s taken me many years to understand and feel comfortable with David Cronenberg’s works at first glance, and because I don’t trust myself when dealing with him, I reckon more screenings are necessary in order to hog as many details as possible and be able to announce a final verdict. All I can say 24 hours after my first approach is that once again, Cosmopolis is not an easy film, and lots of people will end up disappointed. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to reviews and critics and would recommend you to enjoy/suffer the experience yourself, trying to isolate yourself in the Packer way form comments and anything which might influence you.
If I get the chance to see the Canadian director in Sitges tomorrow, I will only say to him BRAVO!
Ah! Before I forget… Seems that Pattinson can act.