This might be the most challenging film I've had to review yet, as Cosmopolis is without a doubt one of the most challenging endurances to sit through. But that challenge comes from something that is truly unique, and director David Cronenberg is, without argument, the master of creating a unique experience.
His most recent exploration into the human psyche is without a doubt his most alienating and criticized film to date, with dialogue that will turn most people off within the first ten minutes. I do believe a lot of this comes from how one's expectations are upon entering what is the complete opposite of engaging, as this is also his most dialogue-driven film and the dialogue alone is what makes this such an endurance. I have read a large amount of criticism accusing Cosmopolis of being pretentious because of how obviously deliberate it attempts to detach itself from the audience and Cronenberg has even admitted to purposely making it a hard film to watch.
David Cronenberg is easily one of my favorite directors working today because of how unique and fascinating his approach to filmmaking is. I always got the impression while watching his films that I was experiencing the human condition through the perspective of an alien or mad scientist determined to understand the way our brains work. He has described Dead Ringers as a look at its characters through an aquarium with the viewer outside looking in and while that was meant specifically towards said film, most of his work could also be described as such. Crash is another that comes to mind, which is probably second to this film in its emotionally detached atmosphere and characters. Crash feels like you're experiencing humanity as if you were indeed seeing it through the window of a moving vehicle. Cosmopolis is not only similar but much more literal, except that we are seeing humanity through the perspective of someone who, while interested, is completely unfamiliar with the world that exists outside of his own.
Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a twenty-eight year old billionaire who has little understanding of the real world. He prefers to conduct business exclusively within his futuristic limousine that he uses as a moving office. He is an alien and his limo is a spaceship. What is interesting is that Pattinson has received an overwhelming amount of criticism for his wooden performance in the Twilight films, but his deadpan portrayal of Packer fits rather well in Cosmopolis. In fact, it is absolutely necessary.
Another fair, perhaps even more worthy film comparison is to Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, where David Bowie portrays an alien humanoid who also prefers to see the world from within his limousine, which is an obvious substitute for his own spaceship, though in Roeg's film this is much less embellished. This works as a deliberate symbolism to the character's lack of understanding the world around him, much like Packer. Despite his intentional self-alienation from this world, Packer seems intent on trying to understand it as best he can and throughout the film he seems to grow more determined to confront his fascination of what he has no authentic comprehension of.
What adds to this alienation is a completely detached relationship with his newlywed wife, Elise. Packer and Elise's marriage is not the product of love and is completely devoid of passion and devotion. Despite this detachment, Packer is constantly determined to embrace a sexual relationship with her, but she continually rebuffs his advances, which in turn causes him to look elsewhere for sexual relations with different women. These affairs also happen to be devoid of passion and serves as more of a respite from this frustrating marriage that is more reminiscent of the old days when a man and woman in high society were betrothed primarily due to the status of their families and wealth. This is a marriage consisting of financial union that is entirely superficial and perhaps a reflection of what the film overall is trying to convey.
Back to the office, Packer's journey amidst Manhattan is an episodic one. Throughout the film, his business associates enter and exit his office in a way that can often be confusing in how sudden and consistent it's depicted. We never actually see these associates enter or exit the car, instead transitioning from one meeting to the next in a very obscure way. The interaction that sticks out the most involves one of my favorite actresses, Samantha Morton, who engages in a monologue that perhaps sums up Cosmopolis and its intentions. Rewatching the film, it still is a confounding speech that seems to purposefully estrange the viewer from completely grasping what's being said, and why, as if to show Packer's own understanding of their meeting and how his world completely contrasts with ours.
As this day progresses into the evening, the film slowly slips more into traditional Cronenberg territory in how baffling Packer's behavior escalates. The second half of Cosmopolis shows his fascination with the outside world intensify into obsessive territory, so much so that Packer becomes a rather frightening and erratic presence.
Despite how detached the dialogue can be, my favorite scene is the finale, which involves Paul Giamatti in an equally tense and volatile role, only from a completely different perspective. These two men engage in a lengthy and philosophical conversation that is almost a battle between the drastic difference of their worlds and perceptions of what each other represents. We are left with a climax that has no resolution. It just ends and the audience is left to scratch their heads and try to understand what exactly the intent was behind this entire experience. It's hard to argue in favor of Cosmopolis with someone who dislikes and condemns the film. As I pointed out earlier, Cronenberg wanted this to be a difficult experience and it indeed is. Not since Crash has there been such a division between his fan base and that division is completely understandable and justified. This is a hard film to sit through, and I can't even consider or declare it to be a rewarding experience, but it certainly is a fascinating one.
Please feel free to discuss "Cosmopolis" here, in our forums!