Cosmopolis, which is in keeping with that director's career insofar as it is bizarre as all hell, and part of what makes it bizarre is that I'm pretty much definitely certain that it's meant to be unlikable. At any rate, I use this thought to comfort myself with the fact that I, anyway, didn't like it in all sorts of ways, and having done all the hard work of being a full-on A Dangerous Method apologist, I didn't want to feel that I'd spontaneously turned into the kind of viewer who finds Cronenberg's very special brand of "fuck you, viewer" to be too much hard work.
Cosmopolis is hard work, all right. Adapted from Don DeLillo's 2003 book - with inordinate faithfulness to the cant of his prose, I am told, though I've never read any DeLillo - it takes place in New York, at some vague point in the eternal present; it gets special resonance because of the Occupy Wall Street movement, though the film was in the can a full month before the protests began. Here, an unfathomably wealthy 28-year-old trader named Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) rides in a limousine, heading across Manhattan to get a haircut. Stuck in an endless, apparently causeless traffic jam (the president's visit, riots, and a celebrity funeral are all trotted at as explanations with an implicit "...but that's not the whole story" attached), Packer conducts business meetings and sexual trysts in this limo, large and high-tech enough to function as its own ecosystem, and with most of the people he captures in his unpleasantly silent, glossy sarcophagus, he indulges in lengthy philosophical discussions, mostly about financial behavior in the days of late-stage capitalism.
Those conversations are fucking death. Cronenberg's screenplay, they say, captures the rhythm and diction of DeLillo's writing quite precisely, which in practice means that the film's dialogue is intensely stilted, extraordinarily aware of its own limited vocabulary (the word "this" achieves totemic importance over the course of the movie), flows with a certain captivating arrhythmia, and is packed wall-to-wall with virtually undeliverable lines of obnoxious, overbaked bullshit (the scene that Pattinson shares with Samantha Morton in particular is a nightmare of esoterica that should have netted the actors combat pay). I don't think this a mistake - scratch that, it'd definitely not a mistake - but knowing that the movie has something awfully specific in mind with its hollow, irritating conversations, much like knowing it has something specific in mind with its dull-eyed non-characterisations, is not exactly the same as making those things palatable.
The thing about Cosmopolis, is it's obviously a critique of capitalism. I wish there was a word that meant the same thing as "obviously" but was more intense, because I'd use that instead. That's how obvious it is that what the film is doing is using Packer as the embodiment of pointless, rampant finance, and wealth accruing for the sake of accrued wealth, at the expense of abandoning everything we typically think of as human feeling. Nor is it simply a critique of the disconnected wealthy, although the submarine-like limo that isolates Packer from the messy and violent humanity around him could be a more pointed symbol of anti-elite sentiment if it were being deployed in a 1920s Soviet film; it's a critique of the whole matter of living in the current century, given how equally everyone involved, even the furthest from Packer's impossible wealth, seems to suffer from the same emotional dislocation and over-communicative, content-free way of speaking.
And that's it, right there: the doomed universe of Cosmopolis is one that got that way in part because of the overdetermined philosophies that parade themselves emptily in every moment of ever scene, and because of the shellacked people who wander out for the cameos but hardly seem to be "acting" in any conventional sense. It's important for Cosmopolis to fail as a conventional movie, because conventional movies are part of the system that Cosmopolis is attacking; heck, that's why teen idol Pattinson makes such perfect sense in the main role, given that his chief point of interest as an actor to date has been his inflexible lack of affect, and given that putting someone famous primarily for being famous and rich for doing very little fits so perfectly into a movie where pop culture and enormous wealth are so endlessly mocked as they are here.
Thus: the movie is "bad" deliberately. Or, if we don't like the word "bad", and I don't in this case, alienating and unwatchable. What it's not, for damn certain, is incidental: it is terrifyingly well-directed, for despite well over half of it taking place inside an admittedly spacious car, it's amazing how rich the visuals actually end up being, and how much the film's rising action (from a languid, wandering opening third to a brutally tight final scene) works on the basic level of a thriller, despite how much it might seem like nothing in the whole world is less thrilling than people talking about concepts in hushed tones as Howard Shore's score brilliantly uncomfortable score drones away. The momentum Cronenberg is able to wring out a story that is so much about being stuck in one confined space is as impressive as a coup du cinéma as they come, particularly given how fully we are locked out of the protagonist's head for the entire time we know him. And whenever there's nothing else to fall back on, the film always keeps in reserve a line of random, dark, absurd humor, the kind that's funny almost entirely for its incongruity; if there has ever been a point in human history when the phrase "asymmetrical prostate" got a bigger laugh than it does at its second appearance in this movie, I've never heard of it.
If it sounds like the quintessential "not for everybody" movie, that's because it emphatically isn't for everybody, or even most; I'd have called myself a diehard Cronenbergian up till now, and other than trying to parse out exactly how it works the way it does, I cannot imagine that I'd enthusiastically watch it again, ever. But it's a singular vision, all right, and it's doing exactly what it sets out to do - a noble place for a movie to end up, and it's for this reason that the film is admirable, though for myself, I cannot imagine that admiration shading into actual, legitimate love.
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