U.K. poster for David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” (2012), based on Don DeLillo’s novel.
“Today’s violence, the violence produced by our hypermodernity, is terror. A simulacrum of violence, emerging less from passion than from the screen: a violence in that nature of the image … We are dealing, therefore, not with irrational episodes in the life of our society, but instead with something that is completely in accord with that society’s accelerating plunge into the void.”
– Jean Baudrillard, “The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena” (1990)
By David D. Robbins Jr. | The Fade Out
David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” is the damnedest journey ever taken to get a haircut. Admittedly, I come at Cronenberg’s film from a different viewpoint than most film-goers. For one, I’ve watched nearly every Cronenberg film (enjoying “Videodrome”, “Crash”, “eXistenZ”, “Naked Lunch”, The Fly”, and “History of Violence”) but I’m more of a Don DeLillo expert, having read every one of the author’s books. It was no surprise to see Cronenberg use DeLillo’s dialogue verbatim. No sense in messing with the writing of a genius, right? “Cosmopolis” isn’t DeLillo’s best work, but it is fascinating, as all of the writer’s work is. And the same could be said of the film. At its root, it’s a story about a 28-year-old billionaire named Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), who seems to have little emotional attachment to anything but numbers, money, and trying to get a haircut all the way across town in a city that resembles New York. That’s the vehicle for the story. As the film begins, Packer stands on the sidewalk and declares in the kingly third-person, “We need a haircut.” He sits at the back of his limousine, in a seat that resembles a throne, with all kinds of screens and gadgetry around him. The movie plays like a string of vignettes.
Juliette Binoche as Didi Fancher, seducing Eric Packer.
We first meet his friend, Shiner (Jay Baruchel), presumably a young business partner who helped him when his enterprise was a dot.com startup. And from there, we’re introduced to characters who at times just seem to appear in his limo without any segue. Sometimes they’re seen outside the limo and they get in, others just appear while the automobile is crawling through city gridlock. We meet Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche), Packer’s art dealer, a mistress with whom he has sex in the limo amid discussing a Rothko purchase. There’s Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire), his chief financial officer and an avid runner, who gets off as his talks dirty to her while receiving an in-limo prostate exam. We’re introduced to his wife of 22 days, Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), a poet, who is distant, withholding of sex, and who keeps reminding Packer that she can smell the extramarital trysts on him. (“You absolutely reek of sexual discharge.”) There’s Torval (Kevin Durand), his bodyguard, who protects Packer, as the violence around the limo escalates, and protestors burn things, piss on the limo, chuck pop bottles, scribble graffiti across the windows, and toss rats. (The latter of which Packer jokes would make an interesting unit of U.S. currency.) Samantha Morton plays Vija Kinski, Packer’s wordy and erudite chief of theory. It’s a wonderful hodge-podge of characters, all with weighty things to say. The further the limo goes toward its crosstown destination (a barbershop), the wilder and more violent the outside world, much like how Joseph Conrad’s Charles Marlow sees the wilderness around him grow denser as he travels toward Central Station to meet Mr. Kurtz in the novel “Heart of Darkness”.
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