starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti
screenplay by David Cronenberg, based on the novel by Don DeLillo
directed by David Cronenberg
by Walter Chaw David Cronenberg's North by Northwest, his adaptation of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis functions as a difficult, arctic précis of the Canadian filmmaker's career-long obsession with the insectile nature of, and indulgence in, hunger. Cronenberg's proclivity for parasites, after all, is essentially the admiration of creatures defined by their hunger. His latest is Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a voracious sexual predator who lives in the dark cocoon of his stretch limo as it inches its way across Midtown to a barbershop that would be more at home in the bucolic small town of A History of Violence than in the metal canyons of Manhattan. Its existence, like a little diner along the way, like a bookshop with paper- and leather-lined walls, is further evidence of infestation--pockets of disease on the glistening skin and sterile surfaces of industry. No wonder the filthy rabble protesting in Gotham's streets have as their unifying symbol the rats that are the true inheritors of man's work. Cronenberg recalls his own Crash in these ideas--and not just in his desire to adapt literary properties considered unadaptable. He recalls his Naked Lunch in the idea that language is a neurological contagion, and he recalls most of all both his Videodrome (in his identification of screens with every intercourse) and his eXistenZ (in the erasure of any meaningful line between our interiors and exteriors). Cosmopolis is dense and multifarious--the absolute pinnacle of pretentious, too, in its desire to explain not only its creator, but all of the world at this moment in time in our age of missing information.
Cosmopolis is about disconnection. Its lens is a microscope's lens and its director is an alien anthropologist. The sex is as clinical as the interactions. The most disturbing scene in a film full of them is a quick shot of Binoche's hand touching Eric's foot as she slithers on the floor of his limo immediately post-sex. She talks about how she doesn't understand how the world works anymore (when reminded that she once said "talent is more erotic when it's wasted," she responds, "What did I mean?") and, later, another woman, Vija (Samantha Morton), Eric's staff philosopher, expounds at length about disjointed narratives before offering that she doesn't know what she's saying. It gives the quality that external forces--writers and a director--are driving the characters and a narrative, such as it is, that is completely beyond their control. These people are marionettes in high-Absurdist style, reciting expositions and theories without any real connection to them. Aren't we all? It confirms Cronenberg's disavowal of a Romanticist sublime: For him, there isn't an "each-to-each" beyond the animal mechanism of function and motion. Eric's world is divided into cycles of consumption; Cronenberg makes no distinction between eating, shitting, fucking, making money, losing money. Communication, too, is a mechanical function--ideas are a virus that interferes with systems. Eric at one point tries to purchase a chapel designed by Mark Rothko and is told it belongs to the public. He responds that if this were so, let the public buy it. Capitalism as ritual and rite, no different than religion. Accordingly, Cronenberg gives his parasite a sanctuary.
Yet Cosmopolis isn't a political film. It covers the Occupy movement in the same detached way it covers the captains of finance that inspired it: both syndromes as impersonal and insidious as a cancerous tumour, and identical in their metastatic progression. It's an existential film, in other words, offering that there are no souls to call at the Rapture--that we are all automatons programmed to acquire, to stake out our plots of land and our little conquests before our motor winds down. I love the scene where Eric receives a prostate exam while engaged in a business meeting like a prize steer at the fair. The revelation that the organ in him is in fact asymmetrical is, to Cronenberg, like blood in the water. Remember the twins in Dead Ringers? The fungal growths and water spots that form the opening credits of Spider? Cosmopolis suggests that if biology tends towards symmetry, we are now, as a species, trending towards artificiality--that we have, through our creeds and credos, pushed ourselves into the realm of the biomechanical. We've forced evolution upon ourselves not into higher beings, but into shrunken things ("I fear my sex organ is retracting into my body") closed into a throne girded with technology and information fatally unfiltered. It suggests that we've invited a mortal virulence into our system--that, as one character says, we've lost narratives in favour of volume. It is, finally, a summary of Cronenberg's work to this point, as well as a statement of absolute fear and loathing. A lovely post-modern work, it's killed God by discovering there never was one to begin with. I wonder if anyone could bear a double-feature of it with Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. Originally published: August 21, 2012.THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers eOne brings Cosmopolis to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that is rough-going at the start as the eyes adapt to a conspicuously artificial look--shot with the ARRI Alexa, this is David Cronenberg's first fully digital production--complete with greenscreening I will charitably describe as mediocre. (It's the fact that the exteriors are in the same razor-sharp focus as the interiors.) But then something happens: Robert Pattinson seamlessly steps out of the vehicle and into a digital background plate, instantly teaching our eyes to reconcile the flat depth of field. Then again, this is a work of surrealism that defeats most technical criticism ("I wanted the [background] to be...not quite realistic...like a movie playing outside the world of the limo," Cronenberg says on the audio commentary), and I only really take issue with those times where the image goes from slickly synthetic to merely electronic, with light noise and black crush cropping up now and again. Cosmopolis meanwhile boasts one of Cronenberg's more dynamic mixes, the accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD MA track brilliantly reproducing the sterile quiet of the limo (Cronenberg took inspiration from the highly-subjective sound design of Das Boot), the ear-splitting gunshots, and every ambient fleck in-between.
A second track houses another sterling feature-length yakker from Cronenberg, during which he likens the across-the-board sameness of the dialogue to the way that everyone at Apple talks like Steve Jobs: Eric Packer's thought and speech patterns dictate the corporate hive-mind to which most of the film's characters belong. Alterations to the book are duly accounted for, with the change of the Yen to the Yuan--which isn't yet a convertible currency as the movie portrays it--chalked up to "futurism." Although Martin Scorsese once told Cronenberg he shouldn't talk about his own movies because he misrepresents them, there are few filmmakers so open to and adept at explaining themselves, even if the language sometimes borders on self-parody.
Next comes Citizens of Cosmopolis (120 mins., HD), from Julie Ng, who previously gave us a great longform doc about the making of Cronenberg's A History of Violence. A mix of fly-on-the-wall footage and on-the-spot interviews with above- and below-the-line talent, it provides the name and job title of virtually everyone who appears on screen. (Some players are additionally identified by how long they've worked with Cronenberg, underscoring the extended-family aspect of his crew without belabouring it.) Running 11 minutes longer than Cosmopolis proper, the piece ultimately transcends Cronenberg hagiography--A Dangerous Method actress Sarah Gadon admits that getting to work with the director a second time was a bigger personal thrill than getting to work with Pattinson (who's charming here) once--by showing palpable interest in Cronenberg's working methods, as well as a patience for documenting them that justifies the running time. I love the segment where Cronenberg sits in his trailer studying a video tap of the bookstore set and radios long-time DP Peter Suschitzky to include a set of Stalin books in the shot, leading to a little comedy routine about the propriety of a Stalin reference. Observing Cronenberg in the act of observing is ludicrously entertaining; I could watch him watch things all day.
Lastly, "Interviews with Cast and Crew" (27 mins., HD) assembles talking-heads with Cronenberg, producers Paulo Branco and Martin Katz, Pattinson, Gadon, and co-stars Kevin Durand, Jay Baruchel, Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, K'Naan, Mathieu Almaric, and Paul Giamatti that feel like outtakes from Citizens of Cosmopolis. The origins of the project are recounted for maybe the third time on this disc and the actors are prompted to discuss their unconventional characters in the most conventional terms, though I confess I didn't exactly give these a fair shake because major Cosmopolis fatigue was setting in by that point. HiDef trailers for Starbuck and Special Forces cue up on startup, while the trailer for Cosmopolis itself, in HD, rounds out the platter.