One of the great things about Cosmopolis is the ongoing conversation that is had. A recent blog post from Memoirs From A Culture Stalker took a look at Cosmopolis and Cronenberg’s use of bodies in the film. It’s a good read that adds more layers to a film that already unfolds like an onion.
Cosmopolis is a film about rapid, difficult conversations mostly taking place in a car. Its narrative stakes are obscure, it lacks anything like a climax, and it features some of the most soulless and alienated characters I have seen. Yet compelling direction from Canadian vet David Cronenberg and its timely indictment of our finance-driven way of life make it a bleak, deconstructive comedy worth watching.
For this post, I would like to narrow my focus to what I think is the master theme of the film: the human body. Cronenberg, who has directed such fleshly pictures as The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Crash (no, not that one), is obviously preoccupied with embodiment as a subject. For him, the body is a site of transformation, suffering, pleasure, and horror. But humans are not merely flesh but also psychology, and therefore a place where we can see “normative” boundaries between mind and body, inside and outside, and all sorts of others break down and blur. In Cosmopolis, Cronenberg investigates what I would call financial bodies, bodies that are abstracted, rationalized, and monetized into nonexistence or irrelevance.
We’ll be looking first at the body of our protagonist, Eric Packer (perfectly embodied by Robert Pattinson). A financial wunderkind worth tens of billions of dollars, he initiates the plot of the film by setting out across New York City in search of a haircut. This day, however, the American President is also in town, as well as a mob of anarchist protesters and a so-called “credible threat” to Packer’s life. While this is going on, he is intentionally destroying his company and personal fortune through bad currency speculation. Much of the reasoning for this remains mysterious, though hints surface here and there. The film makes much of the tedium and arduousness of his slow advance through the city in a technically advanced and closely guarded stretch limousine, outwardly identical to all the others. While Packer is able to manage all aspects of his business using his networked car and its various computer interfaces, he must bodily move from one side of the city to another to get his haircut.
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Pattinson’s performance and Cronenberg’s camera are able to tell us that, whatever despicable things Packer has done, he is no less human than those protesters. Something admirable about Cosmopolis is that, while it is clearly a film critiquing the suffocating excess of wealth and its displacement and marginalization of the poor, it does not let the audience off with an easy moral or a tidy political solution. This is why, even though the dialogue in the film is abstract and didactic, the film still feels unresolved and tense throughout. It might be obvious about what it’s about, but it’s far more obtuse about what it thinks we should do about it. It’s a film that points to the smouldering wreckage of global consumer capitalism while admitting that we in the first world have our entire identity invested in it.
Cronenberg is teaming up again with Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, producer Martin Katz and more to film his next movie, Maps To The Stars. Follow our blog HERE if you’d like to keep up with the news. Production begins July 8th.