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Screen » Film

Backseat Driver: Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis gives us paranoia

Robert Pattinson and Paul Giamatti star in the recent film Cosmopolis.



Cosmopolis might be Cronenberg’s most personal film and that is pretty scary. The guy who brought us Rabid, Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome and History of Violence (to name a few) has gone back to the high tech stuff that fueled his version of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and his film Crash—not the Oscar winning one that sucked.

Based on Don Delillo’s novel of the same name, Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis uses the source material surreptitiously to weave a web of futility. There’s an “inside is safe and outside is turmoil” feel to this flick. This film is a vehicle for a socio-political discussion about corporate greed and the media. Cronenberg tries to tackle what is really wrong with this country and how truly paranoid we’ve become as a society.


Beginning with Jackson Pollock-esque credits, this film contains a weird vibe throughout. Robert Pattinson is seemingly going all out to distance himself from Twilight, and good for him. He holds his own in this swirling descent into madness, decay and social unrest. Pattinson is no vampire. Instead, he plays a paralyzed zombie of a human being–cold, calculating and about to fall into the abyss. As kid entrepreneur billionaire Eric Packard, his primary concern seems to be getting to a haircut appointment. Traffic is at a stand still, however, because of a celebrity funeral and a presidential visit. On top of that, Packard’s cryptic bodyguard (Kevin Duran) informs him that he is in imminent danger. Packard’s slow-traveling limo becomes the literal vehicle for him to run across a cavalcade of characters with whom he debates the meaning of life, marketing strategies, dreams and his reign of power.


Borderline esoteric essay and mystery thriller, we are left guessing as to why we’re watching and what motivates the characters. Basically, it’s a big yack fest that takes place in Packard’s limousine with one person after another delivering crazy play-like monologues in claustrophobic conditions. Eric's dedicated disciples creep into the limo, confer and then disappear back into the city. Among them are his cool and clinical financial advisor, (Samantha Morton), his sex-starved art dealer (Juliette Binoche), his financial advisor (Emily Hampshire), who arrives sweat-soaked from a jog, and a couple of whiz kid computer geeks. At one point a doctor performs a prostate exam on the fly. Even a rapper shows up for a monologue and a hug.

For the first hour, I was ready to bail as all the characters gargled poetic oddball innuendoes and spewed existential bile in the soundproofed car, devoid of any musical accompaniment.  Although it was a chore to get through, in retrospect Cosmopolis evolves into one of the most genius movies I’ve ever seen.

About midway we get a twist. There’s violence and then introspection. While Packard’s chauffeur and barber exchange cab stories, philosophy and nuggets of wisdom, the George Burns quote came to mind.

“Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair.”

At some point in the first hour, I thought I saw Paul Giamatti in the background. Sure enough, he shows up in a tour-de-force performance that solidifies his acting prowess. His amazing and Orwellian insane rant about self loathing and human nature exposes an extremely dark and humorous vision of consumerism, adulation and idolatry. “Violence,” he says,  “needs a purpose.”

This bleak commentary on where society is headed also takes a big stab at the Occupy Wall Street movement while attempting to fumigate capitalism. Cronenberg’s take on man’s inhumanity to man allows us to come away with reeling thoughts worthy of debate for years to come, and proof  that true crime is in your head.

The indelible Cronenberg’s stamp on Cosmopolis is unlike anything he’s ever done. His metaphysical take on the world and what’s wrong with it is relentless and nearly flawless, even if the film takes a while to get out of first gear.


3 1/2 Stars

Starring Robert Pattison, Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche

Directed by David Cronenberg

Rated R

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