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August 23, 2012


Cosmopolis 1.jpg

David Cronenberg - 2012
Entertainment One 35mm Film

I don't know if I'm at a disadvantage in understanding what I had seen. I have not read Don DeLillo's 2003 novel. I have seen all of Cronenberg's previous films. As others have written about Cronenberg's Cosmopolis since it premiered at Cannes last May, I feel that recounting most of the narrative is unnecessary.

I feel like what I saw was a science fiction film, sort of like eXistenZ, Cronenberg's 1999 film that took place primarily in virtual reality. To me, Cosmopolis also takes place in a virtual reality or some kind of alternate reality, if not within a dream. Part of what makes me interpret the film that way is because of how the sense of space is disjointed, the way Cronenberg cuts between close-ups of characters, especially in the first scene inside the limo, when your not sure where Eric is sitting in relationship to his employee, Shiner. Characters appear and disappear abruptly as if in a dream. The patterns of speech are also disjointed as if instead of conversations, there are alternating monologues. Listening to people speak to each other often felt like the exchange of words on Facebook rather than actual dialogue. There is also a flatness to Robert Pattinson's speech that made be wonder which made me wonder if I was watching the story of a human being or of someone who only appeared human.

cosmopolis 2.jpg

What Cronenberg reminds us is that Eric is not only detached from other people, but also himself. The film can easily be read as a parable of our times. Without naming anyone, one can scan the news about people so wealthy that their main concern is to accumulate more wealth, as well as those whose business dealings enrich themselves at the expense of others. When Eric shoots himself in the hand, it is certainly a crude way to remind himself that he does in fact have real feelings, as well as providing quasi-religious symbolism as a self-inflicted stigmata. While Eric does descend from heights of wealth and insularity, his death would only be for his own sins.

At least for myself, Cosmopolis is not an easy film to write about. This might be due to a sense of emotional and psychological distance while watching the events on screen. Was my own sense of detachment deliberate on the part of Cronenberg? There is something about the characters serving as symbols, and a sense of artificiality in the settings that provide a Brechtian touch here. Even though the story takes place in New York City, a couple of exterior shots were recognizably Toronto, adding to what seems to me deliberate fakery. It may simply be a matter that Cronenberg's version of Cosmopolis is not the kind of film to be written about after a single viewing, but could well benefit from an extended period of time to absorb and understand.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 23, 2012 08:23 AM