Ostensibly a film about a man wanting a haircut, Cosmopolis doesn’t take long to start screaming about globalization, depersonalisation, wealth disparities, ego, boredom and above all…rats. Adapted from Don Delillo’s achingly prescient novel of 2003 (set in 2000), Cronenberg has remained faithful, almost too faithful, to the underground text. Crafting a film that keeps it’s distance firmly behind a glass partition, airless and tight, operating outside of any attempt at realism. Delillo’s view of New York from inside of a limousine, born from an idea of where limousines go at night, paints a modern world of creeping between edifices, cold souls and unnecessary pain. Crossing Manhatten during a Presidential visit, a Muslim rapper’s funeral and an increasingly violent anti-capitalist riot, self made multi-billionaire Eric Packer purposefully destroys his fortune and his empire through a series of encounters with employees and repeated moments with his new wife who he has yet to consummate his relationship with. Played like a Beckettian nightmare, Cosmopolis spirals downwards to an open conclusion about mankinds eventual doom.
Cosmoplolis is laugh out loud po-faced, serious to the point of incredulity, only when an acceptance of “oh…this film isn’t even fucking kidding a little bit” levels is reached does a thoroughly enjoyable and deeply motivated film emerge. The amount of people exiting the theatre early at EBFS’s (opening night) screening were a testament to how many people won’t be able to grant that concession.
There is a streak of and a comparison to 1999’s Fight Club, a defiantly pre-millenial novel and film, to be made. Both are films of “unfilmable” novels, both feature self destructive anti-heroes and both feel nihilistic and viciously against globalization. However, whereas Fight Club‘s dogma of self destruction birthed a self aware, Nietzschean super man, Cosmopolis‘ Eric Packer’s self appointed doom brings just a man, alone and finally content with his lot.
Huge swathes of the dialogue from the novel are spouted verbatim, aloof and without shame. In the novel, these non-committal exchanges emphasised the gulf between us in the modern world, on screen they have a tendency to (pardon our french) make everyone seem like dicks, or at least, like over reaching sixth formers, proud to have read Russian literature.
Pattinson simpers and sneers his way to an impressive performance, wearing a gradually depleting suit to remarkable effect. Cronenberg made no bones about Pattinson not being his first choice (or the lucrative marketing opportunity of the casting) but appears to have emerged with a perfect Eric Packer, suave, confident and wolfish. The supporting cast deliver sporadically, Matthieu Almaric enjoys being a cream pie bomber, Samatha Morton cooly delivers economic theory whilst the limousine is under attack and Paul Giamatti has all his darkness on display as a disgruntled ex-employee of Packers. Whereas Juliette Binnoche pantomime dames her way through sex and Jay Barachul basically drinks orange juice and falls asleep with little to do.
The confines of the limousine are purposefully restrictive to the mood, cramping already uncomfortable conversations to the point of asphyxiation, creating a mood of painful self awareness. The glass bubble of a limousine hosts the films more expansive moments of realisation, almost as if Packer and his guests are viewing the dystopia outside for the first time and enlightening us, almost as a service. However the film bursts (comparitively) to life when Packer is forced outside into restaurants, theatres and finally an almost Delicattessan like apartment containing the narrative strand (Paul Giamatti) to end it all.
Cosmopolis is an unwieldy beast, containing elements of Alphaville, The Swimmer, Fight Club and maybe Wall Street whilst remaining defiantly unique, comfortable in it’s pretentions and fully aware of it’s very divisive nature. Apocalypse Now springs to mind as the further down the river you go the stranger this film gets; as the bad acid eats it’s way through to the gut and punches and punches and punches our society into oblivion.