REVIEW: Pattinson Is Quietly Marvelous In Cronenberg's Admirable, Feverish Cosmopolis
Easier to admire than to love, David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is an amplified, feverish vision of the one percent as scarcely human — not because of any innate maliciousness, but because they're so removed from the lives of the masses. They're like children who've already won a video game and now play carelessly, without any need to observe the rules.
The lead role of 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer is played by Robert Pattinson, although the star of the film is just as much Packer Capital's high-tech stretch limousine, which serves as his mobile office as he inches across Manhattan in search of a haircut and, perhaps, his own destruction.
That limo, equipped with glowing console panels, a slide-out urinal and what's essentially a throne in the back, is the primary setting of Cosmopolis. It's a hermetically sealed bubble in which Eric can glide through the roiling urban landscape, jumping off or taking on passengers at whim. He is in the city, but not a part of it. The vehicle is armored and, he explains to his aloof wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), "Prousted" — lined with cork soundproofing — though the latter gesture is, he admits, largely symbolic, as the New York noise manages to bleed through. Despite this, the barrier between him and the world is considerable, bolstered by watchful presence of his security chief Torval (Kevin Durand), who informs him tersely of any credible threats to his life.
Cosmopolis is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, but Cronenberg adapted the tale to the screen and it feels very much like a Cronenberg work. It's the chilly sibling to eXistenZ, without the comfort of slipping realities. If the universe of Cosmopolis were to come loose, it would only reveal a void underneath.
Pattinson does a quietly marvelous thing in finding vulnerability in Eric without making it seem like softness. The film depicts Eric's financial kingdom (and with it his sense of self) crumbling over a day, but his breakdown is a gradual one. His panic rises in barely perceptible increments.
Despite Torval's warnings, Eric has set out to get a haircut, though he doesn't seem to need one. (Pattinson begins the film looking like a character from The Matrix, pale and immaculate in his dark suit and sunglasses.) The city is in a state of intense gridlock thanks to a presidential visit, the funeral procession of a famous Sufi rapper and by anti-corporate protests that strikingly recall Occupy Wall Street, though instead of a tent the crowd's chosen symbol is a giant rat.
As the limo crawls along, Eric takes meetings with coworkers and employees who appear in his car as if beamed in: his partner Shiner (Jay Baruchel), his art consultant and lover Didi (Juliette Binoche), his finance chief Jane (Emily Hampshire) and his adviser Vija (Samantha Morton), with whom he sips vodka while calmly discussing the rioters outside rocking his limo and spray-painting anarchist symbols on it. "This is a protest against the future," she says. Packer Capital is attempting to short the yuan, a gambit that is not going well and bleeding the company of vast amounts of money as the hours roll by.
Eric is a big fat symbol — the film treats this fact with a wink — never more so than in scenes with his wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), who's as much an enigma to him as he initially is to us. A poet from a massive wealthy family, she's indifferent to the wealth he's built and the position he's achieved. She's also apathetic to his more animal needs: Elise solemnly refuses to have sex with Eric because, she tells him, she needs to conserve her energy for work. Their connection is so tenuous and they know so little about each other that their marriage might as well be an arranged one between two royals.
Cosmopolis is a film about the demeaning and dehumanizing effects of money, and Eric's wealth has left him untethered. He can buy things or simply have them at will — security, sex, an appropriate spouse, maybe even the Rothko Chapel, which he wants to keep whole in his apartment — but few of these acquisitions seem to resonate with him. As a portrait of the far end of wealth, Cosmopolis is hauntingly hollow, its world deliberately crammed with things but empty of meaning.
It's possible that Eric courts death — by intentionally putting himself in the way of a "credible threat" — because he's losing his fortune, or maybe he set out to lose that fortune first as part of plan for complete self-destruction. Either way, Cosmopolis presents a world of vivid and sometimes nightmarish imagery outside those tinted windows, and finds something elegiac and terrible in the detached way its characters process what they see. As Morton's character says as she gazes at a protester who's set himself on fire outside the limo: "It's not original -- it's an appropriation."
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