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My Thoughts on ‘Cosmopolis’

I recently returned from a showing of David Cronenberg’s latest film, Cosmopolis. I previously posted about my excitement for its release, and now that my experience has come and gone I’m left with a feeling of… confusion. Not confusion over the plot (or lack thereof), but confusion over how much I like the film and why I like the film.

Cosmopolis is not traditional or straightforward in any way. Robert Pattinson plays a cold, detached multi-billionaire who has the luxury of being escorted around New York City in a super-sophisticated limousine that is perpetually filled with sex, booze, complex financial analysis, prostate exams, and the best technology and armor that money can buy. He spends a good deal of the movie locked in his mobile sanctuary that keeps him safe from the crumbling world outside.

With an Occupy-Wall-Street-esque movement going on in the streets, Pattinson’s character remains emotionally unmoved and undeterred in his quest to get a haircut. Along the way he meets various advisers, sexual partners, security folk, etc., all of whom are served with his own brand of hyper-intellectual and ineffectual way of communicating that seems to be the norm among people in this particular version of NYC (the always impressive Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton are among those he invites into his car). Pattinson is a man who can control whatever he wants, whenever he wants– what’s interesting in Cosmopolis is that there’s never a bombastic monologue or a frightening show of malicious power from the young lead. He seems numbed to everything and everyone, which in a way makes him more interesting.

I’m not sure there’s a great deal more I can comment on without giving away details because Cosmopolis is purely about the details, not plot points. It’s dryly funny, dryly thrilling, dryly sexual, and dryly violent because the main character is dry, but purposely so. It’s no fault of Cronenberg’s or Pattinson’s that the film is cold because it’s supposed to be distant and unemotional. It’s very effective on that level, and lord knows I like a good soulless, callous movie. A lot of people don’t share my enthusiasm over this type of film. In fact, at least six people walked out of my theater, which was only maybe 1/4 full to begin with (an older couple walked out after a graphic eye stabbing– I think they were disappointed that Pattinson wasn’t twinkling or sparkling or whatever those vampires do in Twilight).

So all that being said, in spite of the film’s effective calculating tone and steadfast direction, I’m left wanting. Cronenberg’s three previous efforts (A History of ViolenceEastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method) are among the best films of his career. Cosmopolis falls in the meaty “good” section of his oeuvre. It falls short of the greatness of the previously mentioned films, as well as Videodrome and Dead Ringers, because it’s not challenging and doesn’t have a great deal to say. Cosmopolis presents the rather boring notion that society’s wealthiest are evil, destructive people who are holding the rest of us hostage. The problem with the film’s argument, however, is that none of the other characters are portrayed as particularly good either. With a brilliant performance that I won’t delve too much into because I don’t want to spoil anything, Paul Giamatti is a former employee of Pattinson’s who has descended into madness and poverty. His appearance is one of the movie’s high points and it’s an award-worthy moment by Giamatti, but he’s essentially a poor, smelly version of Pattinson’s mega-rich character, self-centered and destructive. Where’s the conflict, really? Who are we left feeling sorry for?

I’m all for leaving unanswered questions and creating ambiguous conflicts in film, but the movie tries to present a distinct message. I feel like Cronenberg tries to condemn the clichéd one-percenters, but he doesn’t quite have the content or the evidence to effectively do so. It’s still entertaining and it’s still a film that only David Cronenberg could make, but I’m left feeling a bit cold… not in the good way.

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