For a movie that takes place almost entirely in a car, Cosmopolis has no forward momentum at all.
Kurt Vonnegut said that to write a good story a character must want something, even if it is a glass of water. Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) wants a haircut. And maybe a resolution to his existential crisis.
Cosmopolis follows a day in the life of billionaire twenty-something Eric Packer as he wheels and deals from the air-conditioned luxury of his tricked out limousine. This includes meeting with various number crunchers, capital theorists, international crisis managers, his doctor, and occasionally his new wife, an aristocratic poet with a penchant for basement bookstores. Packer gets his prostate examined in the car, he has sex in the car, he drinks in the car, while outside the President of the United States and a celebrity funeral bring traffic to a halt. Not making his cross-town journey any easier is the Chinese yuan. Packer’s inability to predict its spontaneous valuation is losing him millions. And meanwhile in the meanwhile, anarchist rioters hail the death of capitalism by parading a monstrous rat in the streets.
Is it social commentary that Cosmopolis is striving for? Perhaps in Don Delillo’s original novel the unmannered statement-question-question beats of the characters that pass in and out of the narrative like refuse blown by cab exhaust is provocative, but in Cronenberg’s feature film, it is dehumanizing and dull. There is nothing to like about anybody; the film plods inexorably toward doom, a doom we hardly understand; for rope-a-doped by the pedantic dialogue, we are too worn down to care.
If the story is meant to verbally separate reality from representation, it does a fine job of that. Characters constantly repeat the phrases “I do not know this” and “This is true,” like automatons playing at humanity. And so, the conversations continue, for Cosmopolis is nothing but conversations by people who have had their reality manipulated by money, incredible numbers which cannot be realized by the common people in the streets. Hemingway was alleged to say, “The rich are just like you and me, they just have more money.” Cosmopolis seems to posit that they are nothing like you and me and they feel vaguely sorry about that.
I gave Skyfall a black eye for turning its dialogues into a Mobius of banter that rendered motives juvenile. But that juvenilia at least threw in a cartoon dragon to break up the monotony. Cosmopolis veers widely in the opposite direction with dialogue that could best be described as Sartre 101 fed into a Speak & Spell. It’s the sort of wandering dissertation that makes for a trippy short story, but it lacks the substance to carry 109 minutes of celluloid. All of the ravenous sex and idiosyncratic violence in this picture cannot disguise what it is, which is an empty vessel pontificating on its emptiness. But you can’t blame a vacuum for sucking. Cronenberg is very deliberate about that message.
Like the asymmetrical prostate of its protagonist, Cosmopolis is nothing to worry about. This is what happens when you take Branded through the drive-thru and hold the charm.
Based on Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo
Directed by David Cronenberg
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