A Strange Trip Through Cosmopolis: Another Qualified Recommendation from Steve

Are you ready and willing to take a strange trip? Do you enjoy movies that live at that place where reality and dreams (or, more accurately in this case, nightmares) meet? How about films with heavy dialog and plenty of metaphors to think about?  If so, you just might appreciate David cosmoCronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Now, take note I did say might. You might find it intriguing, but, on the other hand, you might hate it. You might think that it was a waste of two precious hours of your life. If so, don’t blame me. I warned you. I did say ‘you might find it intriguing.’ From what I’ve read on the internet, including both critics and the general public, there seems to be more folks who were turned off by Cosmopolis, but there are also a significant number who found it to be quite powerful, some to the point that they included it in their 2012 top ten lists. For me, it is one of those movies that I enjoyed while watching it, thinking that it was somewhere in the middle of the pack of this year’s offerings, but, after a couple of days of pondering it, my admiration of it continues to rise. Images flash before my eyes, bits of dialog float back into my consciousness, and I find myself giggling at its dark humor. Roger Ebert says the film is “flawlessly directed”, but that you couldn’t pay him to see it again. I agree about the film-making, but I think I’d like to see it again, maybe not over and over again, but at least a time or two more.

If you’re interested enough to still be reading, consider this premise: Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattinson), a young billionaire decides he needs a haircut and he wants it from a barber located on the far side of Manhattan. His chief of security informs him that the president is in town so crossing Manhattan that day would be incredibly slow and difficult, maybe even dangerous. He suggests going to a barbershop across the street would make a lot more sense. This is not a movie where sensible actions are taken, so Eric insists that they make the trek in his white stretch limo. Along the way, various business associates join him in the limo for that heavy dialog. The conversations are too dense to process completely while watching, but I’m not sure that is even the point. The dialog creates the feeling that the lives of this insanely rich man and those who orbit around him are filled with detailed schemes and manipulations (not to mention technology), but that there is something vital missing at the core and it is replaced by something rotten. This is seen most clearly in Eric’s conversations with his wife of 22 days. This definitely seems to be a marriage of convenience rather than passion. Indeed, Eric lacks both passion and compassion, even when he is engaged in sex, which he is a couple of times that day, though never with his wife. He probably shows the most emotion during what has to be the longest rectal exam ever put on film. (Still interested?)

Something further needs to be said about the film’s dialogs. None of it sounds natural. It sounds like the actors are reciting lines. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is emotionless, but it projects a strange sort of emotion. I’ve read a number of comments that state that this movie has the worst acting they have ever seen. (They must have missed Les Miserables! Just kidding!) I hate reviews that say that the reason someone disliked something was because they didn’t understand it. (Don’t tell me that is why I didn’t like The Master!) So, let me put it this way, if you don’t like the acting in this, don’t blame the actors. They were clearly doing what Cronenberg directed them to do. Take note that essentially all the main characters speak in that strange, stilted manner. The one exception may be Paul Giamatti. If so, that is not because he is a better actor, but because his character plays a different role in the story. I found the speech patterns to be off-putting at first, but as time went on they began to work for me. They did give an added dimension to certain twists in the conversations, especially to a few non sequtiurs that had me laughing out loud.

That being said, I enjoyed the acting in the movie, which means, first and foremost, that I enjoyed Pattinson. He is in virtually every scene. This is essentially my first experience of him acting. (Yes, somehow I missed all the Twilight movies. I guess I saw him in Harry Potter, but I couldn’t even tell you who Cedric Diggory is.) The Eric that he portrayed was cold, but I found the portrayal to be correct and intriguing. I also especially liked Sarah Gadon as his wife, Elsie, and Kevin Durand as Torval, the security chief. Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Paul Giamatti, Jay Baruchel and others gave fine performances.

So, finally, what is this strange movie about? Certainly, on one level it is a critique of unbridled capitalism. The reason the trip across town would be dangerous is because there is information that indicates that someone is planning to kill Eric. It is not hard to believe that Eric would have that kind of enemy, because of the way he treats others, the things he must have done to obtain his wealth, and what his wealth represents. But I think there is more going on here. This movie isn’t just about the insanely rich and the way in which they are out of touch with the realities of the world and the effects that their money games have on that world, although that is its most obvious message. This movie is about all of us and the dangers we face when existence becomes focused on stuff rather than people and our relationships become drained of life and passion. I, for one, don’t want Eric’s immense wealth if it leads to that kind of life. And, isn’t it worse if we lead that kind of life even without the money?

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