A perplexing odyssey of greed
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 24, 2012
“Cosmopolis” might be the “Das Boot” of Wall Street movies. But instead of taking place inside a U-boat, the movie is shot almost entirely within a white stretch limo, following the strange horror, not to mention the sheer tedium, of driving across Manhattan for a haircut.
In David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, Robert Pattinson plays 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer, who decides that his perfectly coiffed ’do needs a trim. Despite the protestations of his security chief, who warns that the president is in town, closing down much of the city, Eric insists on journeying to his favorite barber shop. In an “Odyssey”-like turn, he stumbles upon a parade of characters and hazards. He runs into his new wife, an old flame, a water-main break, a pie-throwing deviant and an anti-capitalist riot, among other impediments. He leaves the limo for a hotel tryst but remains inside for his daily prostate exam.
And all the while he talks. And talks. And talks.
It feels like each and every moment bursts forth with urgent dialogue, and yet what does anyone actually say? Various characters (played by Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, among others) unload endless streams of philosophical observations, but the words are so abstract that they rarely make much of an impact.
The intentionally stilted interactions give the film a dreamlike quality that’s bolstered by some bizarre situations. In one scene, Eric has a suggestive conversation with a sweat-drenched woman, all the while undergoing his aforementioned medical procedure. Later, the billionaire and an employee seem untroubled by rioters who shake the car and spray-paint its windows. The pair witness a man who has set himself ablaze, and they can barely be bothered to shrug at the fiery spectacle. Time seems fluid, as individuals continue to materialize inside the limo even though we never see them actually enter or exit.
Cronenberg does have a gift for creating a certain atmosphere. The feeling here is a curious blend of pleasant absurdity and disconcerting unpredictability. Despite the thick dialogue, there’s something compelling about the whole endeavor, because it feels like anything might happen.
Even so, it’s hard to escape the inkling that the abstruse discourse would be better appreciated by a reader than a moviegoer. When two characters enter a discussion, it often seems like each is speaking to himself -- or past the other -- about only tangentially related topics. There’s never much give-and-take, which means that each conversation is really more like two parallel streams. At first, this is sort of amusing. But after a while it gets tiresome, as there’s never enough silence to ponder what anyone is saying.
As the day wears on, it becomes clear that Eric has lost his fortune and that he doesn’t really seem to mind. At one point he even kills someone without a second thought. The only things he appears to care about are having copious amounts of sex, his asymmetrical prostate and getting that haircut.
There’s probably some deeper message here about money’s inability to fulfill insatiable appetites. But the film’s takeaway seems best summed up by the first limo visitor, played by Jay Baruchel, who wonders: Do you ever get the feeling you have no idea what’s going on?
Contains intense violence, language, sexual situations and nudity.