Tuesday, August 28, 2012


He's Got The W(hole) World In His Hand, And Zero Fulfillment

Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer in David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis". 
Entertainment One


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David Cronenberg follows the disappointing "A Dangerous Method" with "Cosmopolis", a moody, brooding psychodrama based on Don DeLillo's novel.  The film recently opened in select theaters in the U.S. and Canada.

Set just a few years into the future, 28-year-old New York City billionaire asset manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) has the world at his feet -- except the Yuan currency -- which is doing things he doesn't want it to in a volatile financial market he is hedging against.  Eric, hemorrhaging millions by the hour, is resigned to his rapidly-shifting economic status as he sits in his stretch limousine, a phallic office into which many advisers, clients, sexual servicers and his Pollyanna wife (Sarah Gadon) visit.  Eric is incubated (albeit tenuously) from rat-dangling and crawling protesters in Times Square who warn that "a specter is haunting the world."  Trapped in traffic, all Eric wants, it seems, is a darn haircut.  He's just trying to get to his father's barber.

"Cosmopolis" is a slow, haunting and anesthetizing look at the day in the banal life of a man who longs to feel something, longs to be penetrated.  In varied moments Eric is penetrated on several levels.  Yet it isn't enough.  He's spiritually dead, exhausted by material excess, financial comforts and, despite such wealth, a lack of freedom and autonomy.  Surrounded by robotic people who tell him what he wants to hear, Eric is shackled physically and mentally to security guards, limo drivers and analysts.  He's trapped by his success and insulated from his fears.  Eric's living a frozen experience in his head, real enough yet numbing to him.

Like "Eyes Wide Shut", "Cosmopolis" plays as the waking dream of a man having an internal conversation rather than one with those who inhabit his mobile motor office.  Mr. Cronenberg's drama does little more than drop a near-inanimate Mr. Pattinson into a role suited to his lack of onscreen warmth, a virtual automaton in big screen interactions.  Still, the largely unremarkable "Cosmopolis" is at least interesting as a philosophical musing about an alienating, technological and job-starved age where the haves and have-nots come to an uneasy meeting point. 

The director doesn't stimulate "Cosmopolis" or its anarchic visions beyond surface-level sleekness and bleakness.  Mr. Pattinson's ice-cool, trance-like detachment works perfectly for this material adapted by Mr. Cronenberg from Mr. DeLillo's novel.  Eric is an idea, a metaphor, an in-flux model of noblesse oblige, not so much a live flesh-and-blood figure.  We're not expected to identify with him as he journeys through his empty existence.  As a money man Eric faces threats and if the Notorious B.I.G. adage "more money, more problems" isn't applicable here nothing is.

Throughout, characters engage in passionless conversation and banter.  There's occasional suspense in the sometimes sinister way they speak, and if you haven't read the novel you hardly know what to expect from them next.

"Cosmopolis" ponders the idea of a more aggressive recession and revolt in kind by populist movements.  The film is timely not only because of the slow economy but because of the ongoing Occupy movements in the U.S. and elsewhere that target "the 1%" who owns more than 90% of the world's wealth.  Someone close to me recently said that "everyone wants to be a billionaire."  That may be true but sometimes billionaires may want to be someone else and somewhere else, so as to be anything but an easy target for wrath.

The antiseptic atmosphere of New York City drew me into Mr. Cronenberg's film.  The director, whose visceral approach in films is potent, melds themes he often visits in his work: the merging of the organic/machinery and psychological, and the tension between them all ("Crash", "Dead Ringers", "A History Of Violence", "A Dangerous Method", "Existenz".)  The director engages the physical realm in his lead character; Eric is always searching for a hole or void to be filled or exploded.  Eric remarks in a muted eureka-like manner about his "asymmetrical prostate".  He's alive enough to have lucid thoughts, requests and desires for sex from his trophy wife but dead enough not to appreciate the orgasmic thrills sex brings.  "I want you to give me the full voltage," Eric says after one sexual encounter.  No matter how much penetration the ever-contemplative, analytical Eric receives -- sex, mutilation, proctologic exams -- he just can't feel.  When the body becomes an empty vessel, it's time for the mind to revolt. 

Where "Red Hook Summer" is a symphony of shrill, urgent voices yearning to be heard in New York City, "Cosmopolis" is a numbness of voices amidst a primal scream for change in the Big Apple.  As entertainment "Cosmopolis" is admittedly alienating and distant.  There's little energy or plot to hook the viewer into direct investment in or identification with Eric, whose eternal, faraway nothingness makes him all the more susceptible to radical awakening.  "Cosmopolis", a collection of small, intimate conversation pieces, simply solicits your interest in absorbing a head trip of Eric's existential state, not necessarily commitment to Eric as a character. 

If you're willing to think of "Cosmopolis" as orifice therapy it will likely work for you.  If not, you might readily abandon it.  "Cosmopolis" ended up working for me, and it's the kind of subdued film that will at least leave some of Mr. Cronenberg's fans (if not Mr. Pattinson's) intrigued.

Also with: Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Patricia McKenzie, Abdul Ayoola, Emily Hampshire, Jay Baruchel, Gouchy Boy, Mathieu Almaric, K'Naan.

"Cosmopolis" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some strong sexual content including graphic nudity, violence and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 48 minutes. 

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