Credits: Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Robert Pattinson, Kevin Durand, Sarah Gadon, Patricia McKenzie, George Touliatos, Maria Juan Garcias and Anna Hardwick.
Synopsis: A Manhattan billionaire (Robert Pattinson) finds his quest to get a haircut from his father's old barber complicated by the presidential motorcade, a gang of violent anarchists, and a funeral procession for a famous hip-hop star. Meanwhile, the wealthy 28-year-old's vast fortune rests on the value of the yen, which he continually monitors from the comfort of his stretch limo.
A pre-Occupy preoccupation with excess.
The sound-proofed cocoon “that displaces air that people need to breathe in Bangladesh”, is the quintessential symbol of wretched excess.
Cosmopolis, based on Don Delilo’s book of the same name, is a postmodern post mortem of aloof e-billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he stares vacantly into the void from the backseat of his hermetically sealed limousine.
We, the audience, are taken along for the ride, as the vehicle lurches across the traffic-snarled streets of Manhattan for the sole purpose of getting its entitled occupant a haircut. As realised by David Cronenberg, the sound-proofed cocoon “that displaces air that people need to breathe in Bangladesh”, is the quintessential symbol of wretched excess.
Packer’s limo driver/chief of security detects credible threats against his boss’ life, and advises against making the unnecessary trip in gridlock worsened by volatile WTO protests and motorcades for a Presidential visit and a dead celebrity’s funeral. Mildly intrigued but undeterred, Packer deadpans, “I want a haircut”.
Not just any haircut, but one from an old neighbourhood barber, Packer’s remaining link to the pre-limo days. Swap a sled for a short back and sides and David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is a sort of Citizen Kane for the Occupy era (the novel predates the phenomenon by a good decade), for its fixation on an unobtainable artefact at the moment of capitalist king’s demise. But Cronenberg’s execution of that premise extinguishes any further comparison.
An abstract movie that is itself about abstraction, Cosmopolis is a ‘perfect’ adaptation, but also a pointless one. Though I’ve not read this particular Delilo book, I am an avowed fan of the author’s gift for loaded understatements of existential angst (in White Noise, in particular). Here, Cronenberg retains the words and meter of Delilo’s language, for Packer / his associates’ / his assassin’s provocations (“One learns about where injustices occur by asking about them in taxis” / “Money is talking to itself” / “I have a fungus between my toes that speaks to me”). He overlays the audience’s entrapment into Packer’s ‘airless aquarium’, with a distinctive neon visual style and orchestrated sound design. The inscrutability of the exercise is entirely the point, I’m convinced, but it doesn’t make for a captivating film.
The best of David Cronenberg’s films explore the body’s response to pressures both internal and external – and thanks to his visceral storytelling methods, the audience feels some of the residual impact. The King of the ‘Body Horror’ genre’s work can elicit a variety of responses, but they’ve never been mild indifference.
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