It’s hard to know exactly what to say about a movie like Cosmopolis. On the one hand, it boasts a terrific performance from Robert Pattinson. On the other hand, its nebulous and absurd script can be alienating for those not abreast of its satirical components. It is an almost senselessly cold, surreal motion picture, but that is all part of its indescribable appeal.
Directed by David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis is based on the novel of the same name by American novelist and essayist Don DeLillo. DeLillo’s work is infused with the abstract, so it stands to reason that this 2012 picture based on his 2003 work would carry some of the same hazy confines. It also stands to reason that Cronenberg is perhaps the only director to bring such material to life (or lifelessness).
Pattinson stars as Eric Packer, a ridiculously rich 28-year-old with something to do with the stock market and speculation. He deals in numbers, in determining logic in labyrinths of finance and information. Packer decides that he needs a haircut, so he commences a cross-town trip to his favourite barbershop. His limo is state-of-the-art, a sort of protective cover against the rigours of the noisy city.
The traffic is terrible in Manhattan, which means the trip to the barbershop takes forever. Packer doesn’t care. He uses his time to visit his wife (Sarah Gordon), have sex with his art consultant (Juliette Binoche) and bodyguard (Patricia McKenzie), babble with his business partner (Jay Baruchel), get advice from his chief adviser (Samantha Morton), and deal with a stalker (Paul Giamatti).
The language of Cosmopolis is a wonder of wordplay, steeped in aloofness and oddity. Lines taken out of context sound utterly ridiculous, like when Packer tells his wife “That’s my peanuts you smell” or informs Benno Levin (Giamatti) that not only are “holes” interesting but that “There are books about holes.”
These linguistic exercises, exemplified perhaps at their most pretentious with Morton’s character, hinge on the delivery of the actors. A shade to the left or right and things lose their satirical, ridiculous coldness and become comic and just flat-out bad. Luckily, Cronenberg’s picture is steered in the right direction and the performers are all game.
Pattinson finally has a use for his trademark coldness, for one, and he makes for a tremendous lead actor here. Often carrying on like he’s hiding a Christopher Walken impression under his shirt, Pattinson’s Packer doesn’t seem that far removed from Edward Cullen and embodies the affluent vampirism so essential to the Twilight universe in the most caustic way possible.
Yet Pattinson is up for more than just a departure from what appeals to screaming hordes of young girls and housewives and Cosmopolis runs the danger of turning him into a serious, reputable, dangerous actor. The blank look and the uneager countenance serve him immensely well here, as they’d serve almost any sociopathic rich guy, and he gamely sinks into the more absurd parts of the role.
Cronenberg’s tale of capitalism, self-destruction, self-absorption, and asymmetrical prostates is far from a linear journey. It will throw many viewers for a loop, not because of its content (although there are two glorious sex scenes and some good violence) but because of its lyrical elusiveness and general apathy. Cosmopolis is an idiosyncrasy of an experience. Perhaps that’s for the best.