Monday, July 28, 2014


Some spoilage

"I apologize in advance for this movie," I told my wife as COSMOPOLIS, director David Cronenberg's 2012 feature, began. I knew enough about it to surmise that she would hate it, a view evidently shared by thousands.  She squirmed from the first minutes. When I told her I was thinking of purchasing the disc, she promised to "throw it in the dumpster."

To my surprise, she lasted a full hour, though I think she dozed a few times. Despite some potent imagery and the occasional bit of extreme violence or sexuality for which the director is well known, the talkiness (and the denseness of the dialogue) of this will easily somnolesce the weary.

So there's the first rec: if you decide to take this journey, you need to be awake. Cronenberg adapts Don Delilo's novel with heady ideals intact. Mind expanding, you might argue.  Complaining that many of the themes in COSMOPOLIS, as expositioned mostly through dialogue, degenerate into philosophical blather is not necessarily inaccurate. The director has always sought to make a medium that often works best on mere visual and emotional levels more intellectual. But never at the expense of arresting visuals. With THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's cinematographer Peter Suschitzky behind the lens (the tenth time for Cronenberg), all the moreso.

Gliding through Manhattan traffic, frought with gridlock due to Presidential caravans, protestors, and funeral processions, in a luxury stretch limousine is Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson). He's young, extremely wealthy. One of those corporate wolves.  He manages assets and speculates currencies.  Today his mission is to make his away over to his favorite barber. Business is conducted from the car.  The destination takes far longer than expected due to the aforementioned and a series of pick-ups and stops with colleagues, prostitutes, doctors, and his wife, with whom he seems to have more a business merger than a marriage.  At one point, someone states "The future is impatient.  Destroy old industries.  Or find new ways to exploit them."

Each encounter reveals more about Eric and his fragile world. After a series of bad trading choices, that world rapidly collapses.  Protestors/anarchists looking to occupy something deface his limo with graffiti. He learns there's a hit man on his trail. His doctor finds that his prostate is asymmetrical. It makes perfect sense that by the time he reaches the barber, he is given an asymmetrical haircut. Was that the detail that he was missing? In the search for cold precision, perfection?

Conversations during COSMOPOLIS are not the usual ping pong back and forth you observe in most films. Everyone speaks with a clipped, staccato delivery, yet with exhausting verbosity. When someone asks a question, it is never answered, at least not directly. Perhaps this device would've worked even better for the overall theme of the movie if Eric were an attorney?

Unavoidably, I was reminded of several other films. One was FIGHT CLUB, with its numb protagonist who longs to feel something real, visceral. Describes many Cronenberg protagonists, no? Eric allows his lover to inch a laser sight dot from an arsenal along his body, encouraging her to "do it." Later, he shoots himself in the hand.  New flesh? Thus, COSMOPOLIS fits comfortably among the director's resume, with strongest resemblances to CRASH, eXistenZ, and NAKED LUNCH.

Pattinson is appropriately zombie like in the lead. Perhaps Cronenberg selected him based on his sleepwalking performances in the dreadful TWILIGHT movies. I was a bit distracted by the actor's (deliberate?) efforts to imitate Christopher Walken, though. Good thing Paul Giamatti shows up at the end.

And by the final scene, a character actually remarks that he believes the fungus between his toes talks to him. Out of context, it sounds as absurd as anything possibly could, but within this filmed essay on the corrosiveness of capitalism, often exemplified with scientific metaphors, it makes sense. Perfect Cronenberg territory.
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