Cosmopolis

Tagged: Film

Film (2012). Alfama Films/Prospero Pictures/Konology. Directed and written by David Cronenberg, from the novel Cosmopolis (2002) by Don DeLillo. Cast includes Abdul Ayoola, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durant, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Emily Hampshire, Patricia McKenzie, Samantha Morton, Robert Pattinson and George Touliatos. 109 minutes. Colour.

Cosmopolis the film shares with Don DeLillo's novel an epigraph from the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998): "A rat became the unit of currency". The meaning of the tag – or slogan, or lament, or epitaph on an historical epoch, or complex play on the literal and/or metaphorical meaning of "rat" – is multiply addressed in both the book and the film. In this, and in most of the other necessary transforms implicit in the change of media, Cronenberg has been modestly faithful to the book; he has, however, left unrealized filmically some of DeLillo's more explicit renderings of his protagonist's distress, declining, for instance, to film the moment – skipped by using a hard cut – when billionaire currency speculator Eric Packer (Pattinson) has his wish fulfilled and is stun-gunned by a member of his security staff, Kendra Hays (McKenzie), after they have had sex. As DeLillo puts it, first noting that the day's financial disasters had been "releasing Eric from his neocortex":

  • The stun gun probably helped. The voltage had jellified his musculature for ten or fifteen minutes and he'd rolled about on the hotel rug, electroconvulsive and strangely elated, deprived of his faculties of reason.

By not registering this extreme moment Cronenberg marginally demotivates Packer's stunned, seemingly acte gratuit behaviour over the remaining half hour of the film; but at the same time frees its Slingshot Ending to thrust unimpeded into the bad future.

The story is simple. DeLillo dates his novel 2000, but Cronenberg does not fix a year, allowing Cosmopolis's sf content to suggest a very Near Future setting. Eric Packer, who has applied his genius to the creation of gorgeous symmetrical mathematical models of market activities in the yen, and gambled his entire huge fortune on the mistaken assumption that it would rise, steps into his stretch limo in mid-town Manhattan (see New York) and tells his security chief Torval (Durand) that he wishes to be driven cross-town to his favourite barber. Torval warns him that the imminent visit of the American President to Manhattan will cause huge traffic jams, but Packer insists. Most of the rest of the film takes place inside the limo (though the jam is so severe he has time to go to restaurants and hotels to meet women); the surreality of events visible through its armour-plated windows (perhaps intensified by the fact that the film was shot in Toronto) has almost the effect of a doom-proclaiming Greek chorus. Woe betide us (this frieze of actions informs Packer): look at the fixated panic and despair in every face; see dead rats brandished by mobs of protesters, one of whom burns himself to death. But Packer seems magically indifferent, though his face twitches at points, anguishedly, beneath its staring impassivity, so blank it might have been achieved through pancake makeup: his fortune dissipates by the second; his new wife, whom he discovers in an adjacent cab and who twice over the course of the day refuses him sexually; and a doctor, after examining him in situ, tells him his prostrate is asymmetrical, news he seems weirdly to take to heart (Cronenberg habitually treats specific bodily dysfunctions as synecdoches of global distress), as though that imbalance were somehow responsible for the collapse of the symmetrical world he had conquered.

He is intermittently perplexed by the fact that his Computer continues to show images of events in his life which have not yet happened, perhaps a signal that he is no longer an agent in the world to come, but a creature who is being told. Certainly the rest of his day seems foreordained. Torval has warned him that an assassin is stalking him, but just before finally reaching the barbershop (darkness has already fallen) Packer kills Torval, his face as white and indifferent as a puppet's. The barber, Anthony Adubato (Touliatos), who knew his family, cuts only one side of his head, another asymmetry. Packer walks into the street and is shot at by the assassin, Benno Levin (Giamatti), a former employee, and they confront each other in a Cronenbergesque interior, full of detritus, a place where rats flourish. In the novel, Packer's futuristic watch shows him Time-Viewer scenes of his funeral, while Levin obsessionally reiterates to his ex-employer a sense that he has fallen out of the world. Packer asks him to pull the trigger. The screen blackens, as though whatever happens is insignificant. The cosmopolis of the future is not for the likes of them. They are no longer even currency. [JC]

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