David Cronenberg’s most recent film, Cosmoplis, is about sex, commerce, alienation, white stretch limos, a haircut, sensitivity and the lack thereof. He calls it a comedy. Trudging its way from a limited run in theaters across town into home video, let’s see if it was worth the drive.
There’s an exchange early in the film where Robert Pattinson’s character Eric Packer poses a question and the person across from him states that any attempt at an answer would be met with a loss of respect. Taking on this film in a brief critique is like trying to answer that question. To discuss this movie one would need in depth knowledge of the original book by Don DeLillo, Cronenberg, philosophy, capitalism, and a grab bag of at least seven other provocative words. It’s that kind of movie. The good news is that the full Cosmopolis experience is not going to be found in this review, so it’s perfectly alright to be superficial.
The film begins with a blank canvas soon splattered with the look of a Jackson Pollock painting that comes into form below the credits. These paintings deceive the audience into thinking something is happening--an illusion of movement that becomes the base of the narrative. We are then introduced to the protagonist’s mission: To ride in a white stretch limo across town to get a haircut. To achieve this goal he must endure traffic (one illusion of movement) and guests who challenge his outlook (a second illusion of movement).
In this stretch limo, Eric Packer, a billionaire 28-year-old trader who analyzes the world and speaks in a cadence taken from DeLillo’s textual rhythms, introduces the viewer to other hyper-realized characters who inform his life and share in his conscious. From the characters’ extremely well-crafted discourse, the audience can glean not only narrative progress but also a continuous flow of heady intellectual diversions that inform a larger conversation. These characters include Packer’s wife of 22 days, a young analyst, an older art dealer, and a few madmen. The relationships are intriguing through how each person relates to one other and what they all represent to Packer.
As the film progresses, we try to draw connections, but even when we think we’ve cracked the case, we are reminded that it’s only an idea of an answer. This is personified by Samantha Morton’s character, a woman who offers the only tangible solutions and then reminds Packer she’s just a theorist. Thus, her take can’t be given full weight, either.
Unlike talking head movies that seize a certain privilege to spit ideas at its viewers, Cronenberg’s adaptation instead takes continual risks to subconsciously isolate the audience so that they feel as separate from the everyday world as Packer. The limo is used to achieve this effect. Outside its windows lives a world made of extras, set dressing, and plates of a city replacing a green screen. The existence of the unreal puts you in Packer’s seat allowing you to observe from afar while at the same time living inside the limo.
This visual trickery helps the audience submit to the character’s mindset. Packer knows that he is unphased by elements outside his bubble and this leads to his fascination with being hurt. Even when he’s losing everything he is still unaffected-- because nothing affects his physical person. He even turns against the one man specifically in charge of protecting his psychical self to run toward someone who means him harm. Only when Packer abandons the limo is he finally exposed and we, with him, move on to the next big thing.
Packer’s journey ends when he goes out of his way to enter a place he deems to be real. What follows is an interaction with his last guest who is so much his polar opposite that I’d argue they’re supposed to be the same person. The film goes out of its way to end ambiguously so I’ll take the allowance to make up my own ending. I’ll say that the last 22 minutes takes place in a fraction of a second during the haircut. This is a unit of time that Packer romanticized earlier in the film, and since this whole film seems to be about taking “everything” in at a glance it might as well end on one.
The picture quality is super sharp but there is a strange artifacting or digital fuzz that sometimes looks like an artificial film grain onscreen at times. Benefit of the doubt says this is intentional and it doesn’t detract from the image’s larger impact, but if it’s not purposeful, it is a strange looking Blu-ray. The audio perfectly speaks to Packer’s journey and locations with incredible sound design, as well as a remarkable score by Howard Shore and Canada’s own rockers, the band Metric.
The feature length Citizens of Cosmopolis documentary is outstanding. Though everyone interviewed serves up their personal love letter to Cronenberg, it also provides an in depth look into the moviemaking process in general. Most importantly, it grants access into the reality of working with this auteur. Rather than having separate featurettes, the documentary combines makeup, score, cinematography, special effects, and more into one seamless experience, giving the audience a true look into Cronenberg’s techniques and making it a valuable “DVD as film school” addition.
The cast and crew interviews on the disc are disappointing, offering mostly the same footage utilized in the documentary. Cronenberg’s feature length commentary is straightforward and speaks to theories on the book, creative decisions and the filmmaking process. After watching Packer go on his journey, it’s good to hear from someone else, and audiences are left with a deeper understanding of Cosmoplis the movie while still leaving impetus to explore the book.