The most common complaint I tendered from friends and colleagues regarding David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis upon its release in 2012 was that, in spite of all the philosophical discussions therein, the characters are in fact incredibly shallow. This is correct, of course, but hardly a shortcoming. In fact, it’s precisely the point of the picture. The film is an unflinching portrait of monstrous human beings who love capital above all else, and whose self-serving drives perpetuate an unjust economic system. The characters expound philosophies the ramifications of which they cannot understand, philosophies they assume reveal something of that which leaves them perpetually unfulfilled. They lack something. They know this, but they know not what. They recognize their inability to fill the voids in their lives with money and their lack shames them, haunts them, inspires them to behave in the most irredeemably socially irresponsible manners imaginable.
At the center of Cronenberg’s exploration of the dark hearts of capitalism is Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 28-year-old billionaire who cares nothing for others and who, by his own admission, gives nothing to charity. His only interests lie in fulfilling his every base desire and in the acquisition of wealth for wealth’s sake. He’s a man who always gets what he wants, and on the day during which the film follows Eric, what he wants is a haircut from his usual barber across town– closed streets, anarchist protests, and threats on his life be damned. As he travels across town in his high-tech stretch limousine, Eric conducts meetings with various persons in his employ, stops off for meals with his new bride who refuses sleep with him, and wagers his vast fortune against the strength of the Chinese Yuan, a wager that is costing him millions by the minute.
His final “meeting,” which accounts for the last twenty-five minutes of screen time, reveals the film to be a daring allegory about the struggle between the haves and have-nots (or the 1% and the 99%, if you will). Unlike other films which might support an even distribution of wealth or espouse the potential for the productive uprising of a citizenry stifled by capitalist hierarchies, Cosmopolis suggests that these hierarchies are inevitable, that they are, once enacted, self-perpetuating and therefore irresistible. It’s a powerfully honest response to the current economic climate, which poignantly follows on the heels of the Occupy movement and of course immediately preceded the recent battles in Washington over tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
Cosmopolis easily ranks among Cronenberg’s best pictures. This is a bold statement, I know, but believe me, it’s coming from an enormous admirer of the man’s work, someone who holds dear each and every picture Cronenberg has ever produced. Cronenberg wrote as well as directed the film, adapting the screenplay from Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name. The dialogue, drawn directly from DeLillo’s piece, is fucking spectacular, and Cronenberg does nothing to dull the difficulty of the characters’ words, showing incredible respect for his audience’s intelligence. The film’s aesthetic is spot-on and Cronenberg’s decision to at last go digital (shooting on the Alexa, in fact) paid off in spades! It is a highly-stylized and visually-arresting picture all around.
Moreover, the cast is phenomenal. The faith Cronenberg placed in Pattinson by casting him in the lead role did not go unrewarded. In fact, Pattinson may never outdo himself. Of course, it helps that his supporting cast includes the likes of Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, and A Dangerous Method co-star, Sarah Gadon. I honestly see here no single misstep by Cronenberg, his cast, or crew. Cosmopolis is an outright masterpiece, and that’s a word I don’t use very often.
The film is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Entertainment One (I of course wholeheartedly suggest you go Blu-ray for the highest quality picture and sound!). The release includes a terrific behind-the-scenes documentary that runs one hour and fifty minutes, which, I should point out, is actually longer than the film itself. It also features interviews with the cast and crew, the theatrical trailer, and a feature-length audio commentary with Cronenberg.