Lifted by David Cronenberg from Don DeLillo’s prophetic 2003 novel, Cosmopolis proves that even the best filmmakers can’t adapt the unadaptable.
Cosmopolis is an unredeemable world of evil. When billionaire tycoon Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) wants a haircut, he gets into his pristinely white stretch limo to cross midtown Manhattan through a citywide traffic jam. It could be any day in New York City, only the world is on the brink of financial and social meltdown: with anti-capitalist demonstrations, televised massacres of politicians and the stock market plummeting every second. But it doesn’t matter, Packer gets what Packer wants, and Packer wants a haircut.
While his limo crawls across town, the suave, 28-year-old sits in his LCD-controlled backseat throne, carrying out the most mundane and most intimate activities from within his mobile office. One-by-one stepping into his mobile office is his sexless newlywed wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), lustful art dealer Didi (Juliette Binoche), a doctor conducting Packer’s daily prostate checkup and two woeful business advisors. All seem to be more connected to the world outside of his limo, whilst Packer sees these boring meetings as a means to pass the time before the apocalypse strikes.
The greatest enjoyment watching Cosmopolis is to think of all those Twilight groupies who have watched it too. Clutching on to R-pats like he is a commercially viable entity, it must have been an excellent slap around vampiric chops to see him give a stern, measured and ostensibly lifeless performance.
That’s not to say it’s no good. A character that could have easily come from J.G. Ballard’s Crash (also adapted by Cronenberg to more satisfying, yet nevertheless horrifying effect in 1996), Pattinson devours the emotionally reticent Packer. With every knowing, frosty glare and last-ditched attempt of a smile proving to be surprisingly magnetic to watch.
So far, so good, but Cosmopolis is in many ways a nightmare of a movie. For a start, it is as loquacious as Cronenberg’s last film, the psychoanalytical Jung-Freud drama A Dangerous Method. And equally impenetrable to boot; using many complete excerpts from the novel, the story is sadistic, scary, and totally ‘Cronenberg-esque’.
In one of the most frustrating scenes, the usually excellent Samantha Morton enters the limo as one of Packer’s associates and spends ten minutes didactically explaining the problems with the free market. It’s a wordy monologue where every sentence contextualizes Packer’s story (he’s not much of a talker), yet continues to further distance the audience from being engaged by the story, even within a post-GCH context. It’s drowning in the same profundity as the source material, although it then being pictorialized is too distressing to endure..
With Cronenberg’s regular DP Peter Suschitzky on frame duties, Cosmopolis has has surreal fixed shots, synthetic colour manipulation and a gritty lens, which are all completely un-cinematic yet beautifully formulated.
In an increasingly online world and the constraints of global financial crisis hitting everyone where it hurts, one can imagine that there are a handful of men just like Eric Packer. Sitting in their crumbling ivory towers–or defaced limousines–watching society’s failed attempts at austerity, just waiting for the world to implode and take everyone along for the ride. It’s just a shame that such a universally relative allegory could be so obtuse.