After watching Cosmopolis last night, this morning my husband made a joke about how it was City City, and then, no maybe, it was a Russian Metropolis? Which got us both wonder what is the exact meaning of the root of cosmo? Wikipedia says it is “an orderly or harmonious system,” antithetical to chaos. Usually used as a synonym for the latin, Universe. This got my brain buzzing, thinking about the order of Eric Packer’s tricked-out limousine, compared to the chaos going on outside. Also, Wikipedia told me, Russian cosmism is a “philosophical position that mankind is an insignificant aspect of a universe at best indifferent and perhaps hostile.”
Cosmopolis, is based on a novel by Don DeLillo of the same name, and like James Joyce’s Ulysses, follows its protagonist on his way through the city, on an ordinary day. In this case, it is Eric Packer, a 28-year old billionaire, on his way across town to get a hair cut. Except it’s not just an ordinary day for Eric Packer, although we do get a good idea of an ordinary day is for this guy.
Cosmopolis has been seen as a “return to form” for director David Cronenberg, after making three “more mainstream” films (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method), Cosmopolis is edgier and stranger, more like the work that preceded A History of Violence. It is telling that the screenplay for Cosmopolis was also written by Cronenberg, unlike the three films listed above. Which isn’t to say Cosmpolis is better than these films. It’s received very mixed reviews from critics.
I for one really enjoyed the film, though. I found it to be funny, and it provided a point of view that is usually not seen in movies. We are shown the absurdity of extreme wealth (Packer wants to buy the Rothko Chapel in its entirety; he gets a physical from his doctor every single day), but also the silliness of some political protests (we are shown the chaos of a political protest that seems to go no where; later, we meet a man who hits people in the face with cream pies as an act of political defiance). We simultaneously are repelled and attracted to the main character. Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer reminded me of a young Marlon Brando, a smooth, pale face unburdened by emotion. We both admire his skill but suspect that what he is doing is unethical.
This might be irrelevant, but all the scenes that take place in the limousine remind me of being in a cinema, surrounded by small screens instead of one large one. It’s almost as if what is going on outside the car isn’t real, but a projection, which, for Eric Packer, might be accurate. The data flowing into smaller screens in his car is more real that what is happening on the streets. Once he becomes unburdened by the data, it is then he can go out into the dirty, dangerous world and find his fate.
The final scene of the film, a long conversation between Packer and Paul Giamatti’s character, is my favorite. This feels like he’s crawling into the projectionist booth, looking for the man who is going to make the next thing in his life happen. This man he encounters is physically the opposite of Packer’s unruffled, tidy appearance, but they speak the same language of data and currency. Giamatti is like the projectionist. We can’t see him, but he can see us, he knows everything there is to know about us, and he makes the next thing happen because that is what defines him.
I don’t know what this movie means, but it’s fun to think about. Now playing through Thursday 9/27 at Images Cinema.