Cannes 2012: Cosmopolis
Posted on Friday May 25, 2012, 10:55 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Somehow David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis articulates everything I think about post-financial crisis capitalism, ie, the world today. It goes without saying that it is weird, but even from the director of eXistenZ and Videodrome it is bizarre, with the mannered, affected performances of the former and the outsider characters of the latter. It doesn't quite fit with the early body-horror movies but there is, like A Dangerous Method, a viral metaphor at play here, and this time the virus is not free thought but the free economy (towards the end of the movie, Robert Pattinson's vampiric playboy comments that “nobody hates the rich, everybody thinks they're ten seconds away from being rich”). But what is money? Is it the dollar? The baht? The dong? Could it be a rat? A live rat, a pregnant rat or a dead rat? What does money even mean?
Cronenberg's cool, intelligent film asks all these questions – literally – and more, then goes even further, asking: what does meaning mean? Seriously. Even by the director's lofty standards this is a talky film, and most of it goes round in circles. As promised, it concerns a limo ride to get a haircut, but Cosmopolis – based (to what extent I have yet to find out) on Don DeLillo's novel – is a surprisingly roomy affair, and not simply a one-set gimmick. In some senses it resembles Godard's Weekend, since the traffic is terrible and civilisation seems to be crumbling outside it, but this will also play well to genre fans and is definitely one of Cronenberg's most ambitious movies to date.
For Robert Pattinson, however, this is another league, and his celebrity status certainly suits the part. He plays Eric Packer, son of a super-rich businessman, a society kid who has made his fortune with mysterious dotcoms and by playing the money markets. Today he is betting against the yuan and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. The inside of the limo glows with LED screens, and Eric is joined by a roundelay of guest stars (including a very slinky Juliette Binoche and, more surprisingly, an edgy Samantha Morton) who engage him in bizarre, solipsistic conversations. These talks border on self-parody but somehow they work. It reminded me of Roy Andersson's wonderful Songs From The Second Floor, since this is what the end of the world probably would sound like. Though the budget is clearly quite low, Cronenberg does convincingly convey a sense of apocalyptic doom, from his characters' psychotic babble (at one point Eric is attacked by the custard-pie wielding Pastry Assassin) to a full-on riot that covers the pristine car in spraypaint and anti-capitalist graffiti.
The stylised nature of the language will limit this film's appeal, and its self-conscious craziness might also be testing to some (why does the professional barber Eric finally visits cut huge steps in his hair?). And after Water For Elephants it remains to be seen whether Pattinson's teen following really is willing to follow him anywhere. But Cosmopolis does prove that he has the chops, and he parlays his cult persona beautifully into the spoiled, demanding Packer, a man so controlling and ruthless that only he has the power to ruin himself. Lean and spiky – with his clean white shirt he resembles a groomed Sid Vicious – Pattinson nails a difficult part almost perfectly, recalling those great words of advice from West Side Story: You wanna live in this crazy world? Play it cool.