By Antoinette Weil
When I chose to watch Cosmopolis as part of our Literary “Fauxscars” segment, I went in with a clean slate. That is, I had never read the book it’s based on by Don DeLillo. I didn’t know the story. As such, it could have qualified to be in the running for the sought-after “Best Stand Alone Film” category. But it won’t get my vote.
The film follows Eric Packer, played by Robert Pattinson, a 28 year old billionaire/finance wiz throughout his stretch-limo-capsuled journey across Manhattan to get a haircut. Most of the film, including a sex scene, a doctor’s appointment, a loss of millions (or more) of dollars resulting from a risky financial bet against the Chinese Yuan, takes place inside the comfort of Packer’s over-the-top custom stretch limousine.
What happens inside the car is what matters to Packer. He meets with his finance manager, his physician, his tech guru. The dialogue is intensive, thick, unwelcoming. While watching you’re wondering (at least I was) what the characters are actually saying, what it means, and whether it’s all very interesting or just jibber jabber.
And what happens outside of the car is the world; all of Packer’s encounters with his young wife (played by Sarah Gadon), a traffic jam in the city caused by a visit from the President, a charged anti-capitalism street protest, a massive funeral procession for a fallen rap star, who happens to be beloved by Packer, and eventually a potentially deadly encounter with a disgruntled former employee.
David Cronenberg’s direction on this film was impeccable. There is something to be said for shooting almost an entire movie inside of a car with hardly any action or changes in scenery. And his dark, psychologically introspective style fit perfectly with Don DeLillo’s original novel. Should we have a “Best Director” category, I will vote Cronenberg for Cosmopolis.
Pattinson was believable, vivid, and genuinely good in the role of Eric Packer. He has a certain smoothness and a dark quirkiness that made him well-suited for the part. That said, the character is a dry, jagged, unpleasant pill to swallow. He seems to be a morally damaged, self-centered, downright bad human being. He has sexual encounters with two women in the film, neither of whom are his wife. He tries to persuade his art consultant (played by Juliette Binoche) to bid on not a single painting but on on the entire museum, so that he can lock it up in his apartment and keep it from the public. He calls one of his employees to an emergency meeting in his limo on her day off, and kills another in cold blood. All around a pretty loathsome guy.
And yet, I didn’t hate him. I ended up having so little emotional investment in this movie, and in Eric Packer, that even his most shameless sins didn’t produce the type of dislike one typically has for a “bad guy”. Perhaps this is because none of the other characters were “likable” either. Perhaps the beauty in it is that the audience feels for him exactly what he feels for every human in the film (yes, including himself): nothing.
I found myself looking for the real world political/socioeconomic parallels easily apparent in other movies (V for Vendetta, Avatar, even Hunger Games) but ended up, instead of relating, wondering if those parallels were there to be found, or if this was to be taken at face value: a movie about the fall of one arrogant, brilliant, young billionaire.
Cosmopolis is not for the lazy viewer. Simply processing the dialogue is an intellectual achievement But it’s not enlightening, or, by any means, a “feel-good” film. Quite the opposite in fact; you may, as a viewer, find yourself feeling low when it’s over, scratching your head and wondering what exactly just happened.
But here’s what it is: smart. So while I didn’t like the film, I couldn’t help but respect it.