‘Cosmopolis’ would have got the readers of Wired jolly excited a dozen years ago but now feels like a period piece
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by David Cronenberg
Canada / France, 2012
‘I know this’ is a frequent mantra of many of the broadly stricken characters in David Cronenberg’s film Cosmopolis, his new adaptation of the 2003 novella by Dom Delillo, as a statement of fact it is as reliable and secure as this wildly uneven post-millennium study which feels at least a decade behind the curve, as snarled up in its cultural critiques as Eric Packer’s unwieldy mode of transport is asphyxiating in the web of New York streets. As I took my seat in the local multiplex I was highly amused to bear witness to a seemingly endless parade of trailers for the most nauseatingly trite rom-coms – I just can’t imagine why they are anticipating a vapid female audience for this movie – as well as being presented with a first look at Soderbergh’s upcoming male stripper drama Magic Mike. But it won’t be just the ‘Twihard’ contingent who will be unsatisfied with this comatose ramble through the state of the globalised nation, it’s a film that would have got the readers of Wired jolly excited a dozen years ago but already feels like a period piece with some interesting moments and movements which finally don’t blend into a coherent whole. Cronenberg fans would argue that elements such as an emotional core or spiritual arc aren’t always necessary of course, a position I’m half in agreement with given my predilection to so-called ‘cold’ or ‘austere’ movies, but when you’re spending two hours with some truly odious narcissists it really would help if could glean some cathartic relief, or if you were being presented with some ideas and ideals relevant to the here and now.
With a wraithlike central performance from teenage heart-throb Robert Pattinson Cosmopolis is the epic journey of super billionaire Eric Packer as he attempts to traverse a gridlocked New York City in his bespoke limousine, the fiscally felated streets of the Big Apple suffering a particularly gruelling congestion as the POTUS is in town with all the attendant security flora and demonstrator fauna. During his hirsute Odyssey Eric’s fortunes dwindle; his recent trophy marriage to society mistress Elise (Sarah Gadon) is thrown into jeopardy due to his sexual infractions, and we given an insight into the antiseptic life of the supra-elite through self-contained unitary scenes with Torval, his majordomo chief of security, with Shiner (Jay Baruchel) his twitchy IT boffin, with art dealer and secret cuckold Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche who gets quite the interesting introduction) who has a Rothko or three on ice, with a perspiring Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire) as Eric’s personal manager and in perhaps the films most structured exchange, some speculation from his strategic theorist Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton) whose anxiously delivered near soliloquy sounds like it was hacked from a Jaron Lanier screed of Mondo 2000 circa 1997. As Packer prowls the mean streets in spiritual isolation from the disintegrating world around him his pharaoh like fortune is buffered on the international tides of globalised capital, and a more tangible threat may also be seeking a symbolic scalp…
It’s such a shame that such a potent and resonant idea is not mined for all its clairaudiant ability, as on the surface this is a movie which is ideally suited to many film lovers contemporary interests and obsessions, but the design and material are ultimately isolating, with predictions and observations that I’m assuming are culled from the books ten-year pedigree – and I’m sure it’s a very faithful adaptation – but post the 2008 crash and after a decade of technological, cultural and global fluctuations the film arrives as fifteen minutes in the past rather than the future. It’s not as bad as my joke a few years ago concerning Romero looking like your granddad dancing to the Arctic Monkeys via his fascination and inept handling of social media in the one of the latter Dead films, but the proclamations of the prevailing urgency of accelerated capital are junk bond status quality, with Samantha Morton’s academic cypher waxing lyrical on how the laissez-faire behemoth has seized and controlled the very notions of time and even parsed the second (through some chronological Manhattan Project) through the fluid, lightspeed dissemination of invisible wealth through the digital roulette wheels of Wall Street – it’s all as if 2008 never happened, and then is the custard pie wielding performance artist, the drive-by death of a prominent African-American hip-hop artist, in fact all it lacked to carbon date the material was some flippant reference to the USA’s first ethnic minority presidential accomplice. Dialogue exchanges stutter with intentional cross purposes, marking a breviloquent series of exchanges that frequently venture into the realms of the pretentious, if language is a virus then I’m sure there are cognitive linguists whom are mapping how our tools are impacting our communication, but such contemporary speculation is absent here. From his opening nanoseconds on-screen I loathed Patterson and his smarmy, elitist demeanour – an accomplishment to his credit as this is a narcissist whom is not in the least bit sympathetic so I’ll give the guy some kudos for taking a chance with his screech inducing screen persona, even as he doesn’t quite convince with his line readings or through sparring with the array of theatrical and arched, lukewarm performances that are set upon him.
As we’re in Cronenberg territory there is plenty of sex and the infrequent moment of humor to be had with these frail shells that transport our respective consciousnesses from tryst to fist, and echoes of his interest in revolution and conspiracy from Existenz or Videodrome are all present and correct, it’s another detailed character study which Autumn period Cronenberg (he turns 70 next year) has been conducting on his cinematic psychiatric couch for his past half-dozen movies. DP Peter Suschinsky gives the interiors a presumably intentional gloss of artificiality, it’s their first digital collaboration that still harks back to their first alliance with Crash some fifteen years ago, as they conspire to cover the chilly scenes with wide lenses that flatten the image with a compressed depth perception, erecting a plexiglass effigy between the characters and the audience with the consequent alienating effect that distances and isolates the viewer from the on-screen drama. The film reminded me of Wim Wenders similarly sprawling and unfocused Until The End Of The World with its vague sense of unease gnawing at the edges, an anxiety of society entering a final dystopian spiral, Cosmopolis does have a auscultating, glitch inspired soundtrack from Metric with a solid closing titles track collaboration with Howard Shore, but even here again the electro-clash influenced aural teasing feels slightly vintage. For all the talk of the first ‘movie of the millennium’ don’t believe the hype, as in the case of Cosmoplis ‘I know this’ should be amended to ‘We knew this‘….
– John McEntee