Published Jun 07, 2012Originally written in 2003 as a response to the .com bubble bursting, with a narrative adjacent to James Joyce's Ulysses, Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis is noted for its prescience nearly a decade after its publication, delving into the topic of Westernized wealth capital and accumulation as a cyclical proponent of time as a monetary unit.
It's not surprising, in such, that David Cronenberg, whose recent works dissecting the modern age ― violent identity as a construct of past signifiers (A History of Violence), psychology (A Dangerous Method) or cultural binaries (Eastern Promises) ― would adapt it, finding appeal in the deconstruction of seeming absolutes.
What is surprising is that the mixture of DeLillo's somewhat solipsistic but incisive prose and Cronenberg's almost clinical, crisp style comes off as smug, self-important and, worse, laughably superficial, acting as a very rare weak spot in the career of one of the greatest living directors.
In essence, this air of superiority is implicit through the format or subgenre, which is noted mostly for undergraduate tripe like Waking Life and Mindmaze, wherein the despondent protagonist goes on an odyssey of rudimentary theory, encountering a series of prophets in quirky, disenfranchised shells along the way.
Here, Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 28-year-old multi-billionaire Wall Street trader, cruises through city streets at a hazy, dreamlike snail's pace in a stretch-limo on a quest to get a haircut ― surely a metaphor for change or order restoration.
As various analysts, art dealers and doctors hop in and out of his limos, each delivering a theme-specific monologue comprised almost entirely of glib platitudes and desultory "knowing" apercu, we learn that a Yuan trade has gone desperately wrong, threatening Packer's self-imposed empire of compounded accumulation.
Rather than fearing this potential loss, like his similarly wealthy wife, Elise (Sarah Gadon), he finds freedom in the anarchic nature, noting that his inability to predict this financial or economic anomaly is a driving creative force and a motivator to live (irresponsibly) in the present, where the future isn't dictated by the concept of money.
Each conversation reinforces this notion of wealth as a cage we've grown fond of, but Cronenberg smartly injects humorous juxtapositions ― such as a riotous gang of anti-capitalist protesters quickly shifting to celebrity worship and hypocritical spectacle over the death of a millionaire musician ― to muddy up perspectives. The opposing force (the greed protesters) isn't praised for their bandwagon-hopping theatrics; rather they're exposed for merely having a base reaction to not feeling like a part of the existing lexicon.
Similarly, prosaic conversations are injected with discomforting sexuality and tension to reiterate the notion of repressed base instincts as a quiet instigator of contextually abject behaviour. During Packer's daily physical, he has an extended conversation about the financial crisis with an employee (Emily Hampshire) while receiving a prostate exam. In response, she presses her water bottle tightly against her vagina, continuing on about the issue at hand while trying to ignore her sexual impulse.
It's these comic moments of acute human observation and hypocrisy that partially redeem Cosmopolis for its insular, shallow observations about class divisions and human capital. If some of the characters ― all speaking with the same vernacular ― were able to define themselves as something other than a vessel for twee liberal rhetoric, the insular pedagogy might intrigue rather than infuriate. Of course, this is an impossibility given the aforementioned deliberate template of a personal (and resultantly, cultural) odyssey, wherein these characters merely exist as subconscious instigators for Packer's identity deconstruction.
It's a shame that a film attempting to evaluate (and, ultimately, dismiss or deem arbitrary) upper-class entitlement and arrogance is itself a work of such, appealing only to the undergraduate archetypes it intends to insult, or at least patronize. Although, perhaps the genius stems from drawing this parallel between the single-minded arrogance of the rich and those that protest against them without the consciousness or discernment to anticipate root causes. (eOne)