When you go to a David Cronenberg film you never know which DC made it. Is it the Baron of Blood who brought us the half-man-half-insect of The Fly, bloodthirsty zombies in Rabid, and exploding heads in Scanners? Or, is it the Brooding Auteur who tortures his characters souls in Dead Ringers, Crash, or A History of Violence? In either case, upon entering the theater, you may imagine Jeff Goldblum whispering in your ear, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
In his latest creation, Cosmopolis, Cronenberg does create a world full of fear, faithlessness, and doubt. And Cronenberg fans will be happy to know that the Aidikoff Screening Room, where, for most 1:00 pm press screenings, you’ll find only a handful of writers, was packed to SRO. Even Mr. Charles Aidikoff, now 96, whom I’ve never seen leave the projection room or entry hall, came in to watch the film.
Aidikoff excused himself for taking up a seat and “to pay his way”, told us a joke about two robbers who break into a pharmacy and steal all the Viagra and Cialis. “The police issued a bulletin warning people about these two hardened criminals,” he said. Then added, “But don’t worry. The judge said they would get a stiff sentence.”
A charming old man, telling a bad joke: Unfortunately, I found Cosmopolis to be pretty much the same thing.
Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga, Water for Elephants) plays Eric Packer, a multi-millionaire currency trader who has a bad day. He wants a haircut, but instead of going to one of two hair salons on the block next to his office, he insists that his driver and security force get him all the way across town to an old-fashioned barber shop.
Crossing that town is complicated by the fact that the President of the United States is motorcading around the city, a rap star is having a music-industry-funded “event funeral”, anarchists are rioting, and his security says someone is trying to kill him. That sounds like it should have made for an exciting movie.
However, most of the action, takes place inside Packer’s truly impressive, totally connected, high-tech limousine. A series of employees, business partners, and acquaintances join him one after the other for sex and soliloquies as they slowly travel across town. These visitors are played by some truly excellent character actors who give the film memorable moments, including Jay Baruchel (Good Neighbors, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Emily Hampshire (Earthsea, Good Neighbors), and Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, John Carter).
The conversations in the limo sometimes move the plot along as we are told what is happening in the outside world: Packer is losing his fortune in speculation on Korean currency; his favorite rapper has died; there’s flooding. Mostly, however, the conversations involve deeply philosophical excursions into the nature of reality, truth, sexuality, wealth and the human condition. Exactly how I remember New Yawrkers talkin’.
Packer leaves the limo to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with his wife, Elise, who won’t have sex with him. Elise is played by Sarah Gadon, who was impressive as Emma Jung in Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, and is a staple on British TV. How Packer keeps locating Elise amongst the chaos is unclear, but she is clear that their relationship is over because he “smells like sex.” (Understandable given activities in the limo.) Lucky for him, besides being a poet, Elise is an heiress and guarantees him he won’t want for money despite his business empire crumbling. All exes should be so nice.
There are two recurring motifs which begin in the limo and extend to the outside world. Rats as currency and the asymmetrical shape of Packer’s prostate. I told you this was deep.
Before the titles, we are presented with a quote from Zbigniew Herbert’s poem, The Besieged City: “...a rat has become the unit of currency.” Packer quotes this to the first visitor to his car and later we see the anarchists parading around and intimidating people with dead rats and giant papier mache rodents. We are also presented with a marquee warning us that “A Spectre is Haunting the World”. The spectre remains unidentified.
Ultimately, after getting hit in the face with a pie and receiving only half a haircut from his father’s barber, Packer confronts the film’s antagonist, a former employee who wants to kill him, Benno Levin. Levin is played in workmanlike fashion by Paul Giamatti (Sideways, John Adams, Ironclad).
When Packer confides to Levin that he has an asymmetrical prostate, Levin admits that his prostate is asymmetrical as well. For one horrible moment I thought we would be treated to one of those scenes when the antagonist and protagonist look at each other and say, “You, know, you and I are really a lot alike.” but we were spared. Maybe we were supposed to just get that in the subtext.
Levin also confides to Packer, that he gets some of his ideas from a fungus between his toes that talks to him. Which brings us to where Cronenberg (BTW, we got the Brooding Auteur, not the Baron of Blood) got his idea for this film. I’m not sure of the state of his podiatric hygiene, but if his idea was to make a comedy, I don’t think he succeeded. There were some laughs generated in the film-geek crowd I viewed this with, but they were mostly embarrassed giggles. If it was supposed to be a serious examination of the meaning of life, it was way too silly.
If you are a Cronenberg or Pattinson fan, you will have to see this film. (It’s in the small print on the back of your fanclub card.) You may even want to watch it multiple times to weave together the subtle symbolism and philosophical connections that I may have missed. If, however, you are looking for enlightenment or a good time at the movies, wait till this comes out on Netflix.