David Cronenberg and Robert Pattinson commandeer Cosmopolis, a film based on Don DeLillo’s classic novella of the same name. Some of the director’s previous works, like Spider and Naked Lunch, also came from novels and this one might be his most fascinating so far. Theatrical, abstract, thin on plot and very much carried by dialogue, it was surprising that Cronenberg got there first. It looked like a project ready to be realized by someone like Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Permanent Vacation).
DeLillo’s novel revolves around a young billionaire, Eric Packer, who roams the city in a stretch limo on his way to have a haircut. While he interacts with various characters who play almost no part in the progression of the story, discussions concerning capitalism, currency, the future, and time are thrown back and forth, the outside world explodes in protest, and a mysterious antagonist plans Eric’s assassination. The film is very cool, stylish and beautifully shot, while Pattinson gives the performance of his career (by miles) and Cronenberg gives himself the creative space to reproduce the intellectually and philosophically masterful substance of the original work in an entirely new way. Additionally, an excellent support performance from Paul Giamatti shouldn’t be overlooked, providing the film with an epically dark climax.
Cosmopolis is the study and exploration of a mind and a life. The conversation is alarmingly abstract, taking multiple viewings to make total sense – differing from DeLillo’s dialogue, which can be read and reread in print until it sticks, while less condensed. The film washes over the viewer and enlightens nonetheless. Eric is a very complicated character. Absurdly privileged, highly intelligent, aware, bored with life, restless for something more and self-destructive in a way only the super-rich can be. As the story moves forward, the plot deepens and Pattinson successfully reveals an ever-darkening spirit in Packer.
The experience is not dissimilar to sitting through an obscure theatre-play. Nothing in the film is particularly cinematic. It is driven forward by rapid dialogue and staged like a play, whether in the limo, where the majority of the film takes place, or elsewhere. The viewer is constantly observing Packer. His thoughts are never entirely clear, and he never seems to be entirely involved with anybody that surrounds him. He sits snugly in his own complex mind, inviting the viewer to have a guess. David Cronenberg conjures up a piece of cinema that should be placed in its own genre entirely. DeLillo’s short novel was a good next step for the director, challenging but ultimately rewarding. Cosmopolis will be and should be remembered as one of Cronenberg’s most accomplished works in recent years.