Director David Cronenberg made a name for himself in the 1980s with a series of films that explored the human body and the lengths at which scientists will go to experiment on them. Films such as Videodrome and The Fly have become cult classics and as his career progressed he slowly moved away from the ‘body shock’ and to a more psychological impacting series of films. In 2012 he released A Dangerous Method about the relationship between Jung and Freud and later that year, based upon a novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, Cronenberg released Cosmopolis.
New York is in turmoil, the age of capitalism is drawing to a close and Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a high finance golden boy is chauffeured across the city in his extravagant limousine to get a haircut. A visit from the President of the United States paralyses Manhattan and as the day goes by, an eruption of wild activity unfolds on the city’s streets. Eric watches helplessly as his empire collapses and as his paranoia intensifies during the 24-hour period, he starts to piece together clues that lead him to a most terrifying secret: his imminent assassination.
Cosmopolis represents Cronenberg being the most calm and icy cool that he’s been for years. Much-like his highly controversial film Crash in 1996, which looked at overt sexual desires he frames the whole of Cosmopolis from within a stretch limousine. Our ‘hero’ Packer does occasionally leave the car to visit various people, such of his wife of 22 days, whom he has a brief rendez-vous with in a nearby taxi to arrange sex for later in the day, but these moments act as a break from the increasing tension within his own mind, represented by the car. The limo itself is slick and futuristic in design, with black colours punctured by chrome trim and the incessant humming of the blue screens showing the millions he’s losing gambling on the stock market.
Packer may be the hero of Cosmopolis, but within the World he inhabits he is the enemy of the common man, aloof and unaware of the troubles of others, concentrating solely on money and his desire to have sex. In Robert Pattinson (not his first choice of lead actor), Cronenberg has inadvertently found a perfect fit. He is popular to the point of being a phenomenon yet there is something to be appalled by in his eyes. This is an actor trying to break the mould of type-casting, and his performance is ice cold and thoroughly riveting Cosmopolis represents a very wise career move by Pattinson, who is clearly looking to step aware from the teen franchise which has brought him so much fame and also gives him the opportunity to work with a smart, cerebral director in Cronenberg as well as a supporting cast including Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Mathieu Amalric.
Every character in Cosmopolis talks in long, complicated sentences, which carefully explain the problems with dealing with financial markets and the slow move away from being human to being someone who runs their lives in nanoseconds. The film also has this cold, uncaring approach too. It’s very difficult to actually care about the characters as they are all cyphers-dressed-as-people, yet Cronenberg doesn’t ever give in to the pressure of making a film full of ’emotions’ or ‘relationships.’ This is a film of ideas, and he expertly directs the action well aware that he could well be alienating his entire audience all the way through, but there is a point to be made about the destruction of the present under the weight of the immediate future and Cronenberg is too smart to miss it.