“No matter what you think of Cronenberg, he makes pieces of work that raise ethical and moral questions.”
When David Cronenberg first started out, his films were notorious for dividing audience opinions right down the middle. You take a look at Videodrome about how losing yourself in extreme violence within the media can lose your sense of reality, or Crash which depicts how people take pleasure and a sexual fetish in unfortunate human consequences. No matter what you think of Cronenberg, he makes pieces of work that raise ethical and moral questions. In this case, based on the novel by Don DeLillo, we have billionaire Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattinson) who travels across New York city in his limousine to go for a haircut. A simple plot at first, but as he interacts with the people and places that surrounds him, he begins to see the material harsher side of his heightened and well off lifestyle.
The main ethical theme to take away is the economics, wealth and higher power culture that the world inhabits today. Pattinson is sculptured fantastic as a man cocooned within his own world, with the limousine acting as this metaphorical sophisticated shell, carrying him through a surrounding environment of present political chaos without a scratch. A man in touch with his business operations and not shy from expressing his wealth in a surprisingly un-showingly way to screen. But it’s his intrigue and self-devotion to find what drives the human mind, what drives his wife to have this eerily relationship and what drives that ultimate fact that there’s more to life than money.
Delving further into the graffiti filled environments of suburban life, so to is Pattinson’s mental state as he’s slowly introduced to the different workings of race, class and age perception, without it entirely hammering the point home of simply being a class war film. This is a guy who well and truly knows he’s a billionaire, but starts to develop a charm for simple material items rather than his threatening financial status. All coming together in a tense end that clash the ideology of rich against poor and fantastical perceptions against the reality perceptions of life.
There’s a fantastic section which typified the film for me as our protagonist is starting to dig deeper and questioning a life theorist character (played by Samantha Morton) to which she accuses our perception of the future as the cause for individual and global financial troubles. Sipping drinks, she delivers the most perfect line of: “The future always fails, it pretends not to see the horror at the end of the schemes it builds, it can never be the cruel or happy place we want to make it”. Driving that idea that for you to be rich quick, the future must eat up the present and any fantastical ideal visions of your future must be implemented now. It’s amazing how for the first time, the issue of time itself in the way it drives monetary decisions and debt is brought up in a film that matches up with its themes of economics and wealth.
The film well and truly still has the Cronenberg directorial stamp all the way through with that constant voyeuristic approach to his films. Way off-kilter profile shots, inter-cutting that between the cold comedy and articulated conversations just add towards bringing an attitude towards the characters that makes you want to keep your distance from them. A device which I’m not entirely sure was his intent to either alienate or engage the audience from thinking these are simply artificial characters. I’d like to believe the film allows you to make that choice for yourself.
It certainly provides a solid argument of ethics somewhere through its layers of coldness and lack of engagement. It’s not as intense and exploitative as Cronenberg’s previous work that has featured a more rounded and satisfying story. But it’s still proof that a masterful director can have something important to say, even when you’re not fully engaged with what should be the basic film making traits of character and story.
(Cosmopolis is released on DVD/Blu ray on 12 November)