David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is an affected, bizarre chunk of satire that features Robert Pattinson in the lead role and mostly takes place in a super-limo. The 2012 motion picture is based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo and features a screenplay by the director, marking his first writing effort since eXistenZ.
Pattinson becomes Cronenberg’s next muse in Cosmopolis and the partnership fits like a glove, with the actor’s colourless chill exemplifying what works best in the filmmaker’s wheelhouse. And the quantifiable objectivity of Cronenberg is the perfect lens through which to view DeLillo’s language of the damned.
Pattinson is Eric Packer, a twentysomething billionaire in need of a haircut. He tasks his limousine to transport him to his favoured barber, who just so happens to be on the other side of the city. His security chief (Kevin Durand) says that travel will be laborious because the president is in town and there’s trouble in the streets.
Eric doesn’t care. Along the way, he meets various people and has various encounters. His wife Elise (Sarah Gordon) is difficult to handle and his relationship is decomposing. He wants to buy the Rothko Chapel and screws his art consultant (Juliette Binoche). His personal worth is crumpling and his prostate is lopsided.
There’s a lot to unpack in Cosmopolis and Cronenberg isn’t interested in making it easy. This is a subversive piece and he handles it with alarming elegance. Everything adds up, from the casting of Pattinson as a vampiric financial mastermind to the ultimate arrival of Paul Giamatti as a former employee.
There are protests in the streets. They’re waving rats, representative of a new system of abstract currency that can be wielded and wrought by the cruel rich. People are the roaring bedlam outside Eric’s bulletproof glass. People are the sound he concurrently celebrates and detests.
Packer is a self-destructive paradox, a disconnected prodigy of Cronenbergian interest, and Pattinson cuts a captivating visage. He scarcely alters his entrenched understanding of Edward Cullen, a bloodless blight capable of extreme abuse, and wields his fangs against the panting neck of Manhattan while his fortune crumbles. It’s quite something.
As with most super-rich dunderheads, it is up to others to illuminate the world. Samantha Morton’s Chief of Theory lights the best path. She is confused and doesn’t understand much of what is going on, but that’s the creature of hypotheticals. Nothing makes sense until it dives into the ether of practice.
Cronenberg’s understanding of the detachment of the wealthy is masterful in Cosmopolis. It moves beyond the naked clinical exposition of A Dangerous Method and finds a way through the rodent throng, delivering a challenging experience that reaches up into the lungs of the living.
All the while, Cosmopolis is amusing. Sometimes, it’s hysterical. Observe the eye-rolling of Durand’s character as Packer wallows in his pitiless bride. Or bask in the mirth of Eric’s prostate exam, especially as Cronenberg cuts to the doctor. The seizure of Brutha Fez (K’Naan) as elevator music is also wickedly funny.
Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis excels as forceful satire because it comprehends the point of view of the affluent. It understands the truth: they believe the world is theirs for the taking. Everything is up for grabs. Faith, sex, food, and even chaos are but acquisitions in the hermetically-sealed limo. And when the cracks start to show? That’s just the beginning.