After watching David Cronenberg’s latest film “Cosmopolis” in last December, I briefly commented that “It is the most boring work from Cronenberg since “Videodrome”(1983).” After giving it a second chance for writing this review, I still think it is one of few unfortunate misfires made by one of the most intelligent and fascinating directors of our time. It is so cool that it feels dispassionate and distant throughout most of its running time, and the narrative feels sluggish as going somewhere or nowhere. Its dialogues are so abstract and apathetic that it would not feel much different if they were delivered by dot matrix printing operated by artificial intelligence.
Its beginning suggests that some big global crisis is coming, and it is implied that its hero Eric Packer(Robert Pattinson), a young billionaire who runs some influential financial company, has lost considerable amount of his money as being in a danger which is never clearly explained in the story. While paranoid about his current circumstance, he just wants to get a haircut at a barbershop located in the other part of the city, so he suddenly gets into his big limousine and leaves the meeting place with other powerful financial people while escorted by his ever-watchful bodyguard.
Like the limousine in Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors”(2012), his limousine is an interesting vehicle to behold. Its interior is upholstered with expensive materials and equally expensive electronic equipments, and this is certainly a small but comfortable place to spend your time – especially if you are stuck in a traffic jam which looks like it will continue all day long.
While it seems things are getting fallen apart in their world, most of the characters in the movie look as disaffected as the characters of J.G. Ballard’s SF novels. Angry mobs occupy the streets, and some of them hurl or brandish dead rats in front of others as riots are initiated everywhere, but nobody seems to be particularly shocked about what is going on around them.
And Packer remains disinterested all the time as he occasionally watches the world outside his limousine. He looks so consumed by his obsession for control that he does not care anything in the world besides his business and his health, and that is how we come to get a weird sight of prostate examination carried out in the limousine. Robert Pattinson has been criticized and ridiculed a lot for his stiff, emotionless performance in the Twilight movies, but, in this time, he gives a detached performance which is exactly required by the film, and I think he had a more fun time while being stuck in the limousine than when he was stuck with a shiny, uninteresting vampire hunk.
As his limousine is being very slowly driven along the streets with other more plain vehicles, Packer encounters various people one by one. There is a young system analyst who keeps confirming to Packer that nothing is wrong with the system in Packer’s company. There is a woman who has a rough sex with him and then has a long intellectual talk with him before getting out the limousine. There is also his fiancé with whom Packer spends some impersonally personal time outside the limousine, and then there are also a doctor visiting him for medical examination and a theorist adviser who zealously tells him what is wrong with the world and how Packer is directly, or indirectly, responsible for the crisis.
As the limousine approaches to the destination(it won’t be much of a spoiler to tell you that our plutocratic prick eventually gets a haircut in the end) and more odd sights are shown, the narrative of the movie keeps spinning its wheels while throwing various ideas and thoughts in the air without success. They may sound interesting to hear during the first few minutes, but the characters frequently talks as if they were exchanging passwords, and we remain baffled, confounded, and disoriented amid their metaphysical conversations which feel increasingly enigmatic and elusive.
At least, you can clearly see that “Cosmopolis” is a Cronenberg film. While I was confused about what the movie is about or how it is about, its abstract dialogues scenes took me back to Cronenberg’s previous works such as “Videodrome” or “Crash”(1996), which was based on a dystopian SF novel written by J.G. Ballard. Regardless of whether you end up liking his movies or not, they always have the sense of cool fascination toward their subjects, and that aspect is again reflected well here in this film through its cold, distant attitude surrounding ominous ambiance.
In spite of my admiration toward the director and its technical aspects, I was neither fascinated nor entertained by the movie itself on intellectual or emotional level. Pattinson is effectively aloof as demanded, and he is surrounded by the good cast comprised of dependable veteran performers including Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti. The actors in the film do their thankless jobs admirably, although I frequently wondered whether they really understood what they were saying in front of the camera.
The movie is based on the novel written by Don DeLillo, and, as far as I heard from others, the book had been considered to be a difficult one to be adapted into a feature film. Cronenberg is no stranger to challenging materials and he was successful in some cases, but, unfortunately, this slick but hollow work only fizzles slowly to our boredom and subsequent disappointment. In “Holy Motors”, I did not understand what the hell it was about, but I became dazzled and fascinated with how it was about. In case of “Cosmopolis”, I did not understand what the hell it was about either, and I only became disinterested and distant about how it was about.