David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s postmodern, Ulysses-like novel Cosmopolis plays like a profoundly perverse, darkly comic successor to Videodrome. Taking on another “unfilmable” novel, Cronenberg again accomplishes something remarkable: hewing closely to the source material in letter and spirit, yet still stamping it as a distinctly Cronenbergian endeavor, albeit one lacking much in the way of his trademark body horror (with one notable, bloody exception). Diamond-hard and dazzlingly brilliant, Cosmopolis alternates between mannered repression and cold frenzy, one of the ways in which it most closely resembles Cronenberg’s prior A Dangerous Method.
Predicated on an absurd whim, Cosmopolis relates 28-year-old financial whiz and billionaire Eric Packer’s (a surprisingly solid Robert Pattinson) daylong, cross-town quest for a haircut, despite repeated warnings about a credible threat against his life. Along the way, there will be time enough for sexual trysts, political demonstrations, a celebrity funeral, and the depredations of a “pastry assassin.” At the same time, Packer’s currency speculations turn self-destructive, an urge that will eventually manifest itself in more extreme fashion.
As Packer’s stretch white limo (a streamlined, high-tech version of M. Oscar’s catch-all conveyance in Holy Motors) crawls across Manhattan, Packer engages in a series of debriefings with various advisors and gurus, allowing for plenty of rapid-fire exchanges delivered in DeLillo’s syncopated, stylized patois. Just as Cosmopolis’s episodic structure affords a series of thematic sounding boards, encouraging speculation on speculation, as it were, its various visual styles allow Cronenberg to construct an imagistic index of his other films. Then, too, there are moments of pure surrealism, like a sexually charged discussion between Packer and analyst Jane Melman (Emily Hampshire) that takes place while Packer’s undergoing a prostate exam, easily the film’s funniest scene.
An all-too-briefly glimpsed, Occupy-ish protest involving rats and self-immolation suggests another longstanding Cronenberg theme: terrorism as performance art. Everything leads up to a confrontation with a former employee (Paul Giamatti), the source of that aforementioned credible threat. By far the longest exchange in Cosmopolis’s otherwise brisk forward rush, their loopy banter could easily have lost traction entirely and spun off into caricature, but Giamatti and Pattinson manage to keep it viable. Moreover, the final scene’s squalor and moral rot provides a distinct visual echo of Videodrome’s finale, while Packer’s speculations on violence and its roots plays like an explicit reprise of A History of Violence.
The Cannes Film Festival ran from May 16—27. For more information click here.